Househusbands Unite!

A strange thing started to happen when Bill Higgins, a onetime real estate entrepreneur, left the business world three years ago to stay home with his young son. Whenever Higgins, 56, accompanied his wife, Barbara Corcoran, founder of Corcoran Group, a real estate firm in New York, to business-related shindigs, he found that the high-powered corporate men completely lost interest in him the moment they discovered he wasn't active in business.

Rather than take offense, Higgins turned to levity. He began handing out business cards with his title listed as ''spouse.'' What started as a joke last spring spawned, a networking site for men who are wed to high-powered executives.

Higgins and Corcoran, 51, who married in 1988, are among the increasing number of couples in which the woman is the main breadwinner. Nearly 30% of working wives earn more than their husbands, says a study by Harvard University economist Richard Freeman.

Issues arise for both spouses. Corcoran says it's the ultimate luxury to have a husband who has been totally available to her and their six-year-old son, but it can be difficult. Even though Higgins is home, she's still the social director, housekeeper, and meal planner. While at-home husbands may have the time, ''they don't typically have the interest level to do these things well,'' she says. ''I'm exhausted, running at 100 miles an hour, and he's strolling by at 10.''

Corcoran says she has learned to delegate responsibilities at home and let go of how well they are done. ''I have to leave behind my hard-charging, aggressive work personality that expects perfection at the office,'' she says.

Higgins says his transition to househusband has been far from smooth. ''I struggled with my self-esteem as my wife became more successful,'' says Higgins. ''I had to figure out what I was going to do to get out of the house.''

Abandoning the fast track voluntarily didn't make the transition any easier. ''I didn't want to die with my real estate boots on,'' says Higgins, who was an FBI agent and U.S. Navy captain before he turned to real estate. Two unrelated events led him to that conclusion. First, a stint in the gulf war as an assistant Navy chief of staff for logistics left Higgins, who was in the reserves, bored with business and casting about for something else to do. The birth in 1994 of Thomas, his fifth child and his first with Corcoran, sealed the decision. ''I missed watching my other four children grow up, and I had a second chance,'' he says. This is the second marriage for both Higgins and Corcoran.

Looking back, Higgins says he hadn't prepared for the emotional upheaval that came with leaving the business world. '& apos;I didn't have a definitive plan, only a concept of how I would spend my days,'' he says. Now, Higgins structures each day with regularly scheduled time with his son as well as time to manage some venture-capital projects.

Another hurdle Higgins had to overcome was isolation. That's the main reason he founded the Web site. He realized that other men were in similar situations but didn't have a way to network. The site already has a well-visited message board where members can chat with others and a guest book where visitors can post their thoughts and ideas.

Higgins' advice to men: Have a schedule, and make sure you continue to maintain a commitment outside the home, be it to charity or to a business. With Thomas in school full-time, Higgins plans an ambitious undertaking: He has decided to teach in the New York public schools for two years.

For Corcoran's part, she says: ''I married the best kind of man because he is comfortable enough with himself not to be threatened by my career.''

And thanks to Higgins, other men who have made similar choices have a place where they can talk about it.

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