PW: Why did you write How Tough Could It Be? The Trials and Errors of a Sportswriter Turned Stay-at-Home Dad?
Austin Murphy: Writing for Sports Illustrated is so glorious in so many ways—ask me about treading water in the deep end with Heidi Klum in a resort in the Virgin Islands—but the downside is that the travel borders on inhuman. It's been the biggest obstacle in our marriage. I'd been hoping to take time off for up to a year before I actually did, but everything had to fall into place because [my wife and I are] both writers, neither of us with a trust fund, so there was going to have to be some income. The book sort of took care of that. It was a means to an end.
PW: What surprised you the most about being Mr. Mom?
AM: I didn't realize it at the time, but I was guilty of hubris, because while I said all the right things to all the moms ("I know this is going to be the hardest thing I've ever done. I don't know how you do it"), there was definitely a part of me that was saying, "I'm smart, I've got stamina, I'm going to get this thing figured out pretty quick, and there's going to be plenty of time to write the book." And it was so far from anything like that. I would miss a couple of appointments a day, I would bounce a check, forget to work with my daughter on her homework. There was a constant series of brushfires until it calmed down after a month or so when I started to be a little more organized and disciplined. But it required a profound change in the way I went about my day.
PW: Has the six-month experiment had lasting implications around your house, or are things back to the way they were before "the ordeal"?
AM: The time left me with what I call "the sight." I see people at the dinner table who don't clear their own plates or offer to help with the dishes. I'm no longer one of those guys. I see the garbage bag that needs to be emptied. I see the McDonald's wrappers in the car that need to be cleaned out. One or two nights a week, if not more, I'm completely responsible for dinner, and for making sure there's food in the refrigerator. I can actually look in there and see what we need and make a list and go to the grocery store, which would never have happened. I was just some clueless guy, and I got away with it by saying, "I'm the breadwinner and I'm charming and I'll make you laugh while you do the work." So now it's not 50-50 in the household, but it's no longer 90-10.
PW: You finished your stay-at-home stint in August, were back at SI almost immediately, and turned in a manuscript in November. How'd you manage to accomplish that?
AM: I took a lot of notes as I went along and tried to make time in the evenings. Once I was back at work, I was doing college football stories by day and finishing this book by night. It was almost an advantage to be sent on the road because you're much more productive in a hotel room than you are in the bosom of the family. I finished the revisions while on assignment in the Florida Keys covering a swimsuit shoot, and I didn't—I couldn't—give the models the attention they deserved, and I didn't even regret it, it was so great to be at the finish line.
PW: Parenting memoirs are increasingly popular, even books about stay-at-home dads. What makes yours different?
AM: What's been happening is that women are sort of thrusting it toward their husbands, saying, "You need to read this!" Maybe they'll open their minds a bit if it's a guy who'll throw in the occasional line about the SI swimsuit issue. Maybe that'll get their attention and they'll follow me the rest of the way.