COPPEROPOLIS -- The Bustamantes couldn't afford presents last Christmas. A $4 ice cream cone is a rare treat for their 7-year-old daughter, and the family rarely eats out.
This is part of the fallout for the family after they lost their Oakdale home to foreclosure and filed for bankruptcy last year. And while Daryl Bustamante no longer makes more than $120,000 a year, this year he has given his family a better gift: a loving and devoted father.
"It's a huge self-reflection for him," said his wife, Jennifer. "He does not have to make $100,000 to be the provider ... We've gotten by with little pay and big love."
The family moved to a rental home here in December. Jennifer, 44, works as an administrative clerk for the city of Riverbank. Daryl, 47, is a self-employed cabinetmaker and the family's Mr. Mom. He cooks and cleans and takes care of 7-year-old Trinity.
"I'm working twice as hard to get a quarter of what I was making," Daryl said of being self-employed. "But I'm spending time with my wife and daughter. The money was great. But I can't put dollars and cents on my family and seeing my daughter grow up."
This recession has decimated typically male-dominated fields such as construction and the skilled trades. Some have even called it a "mancession."
A Modesto clinical psychologist with 30 years' experience said families are stressed as husbands and wives unexpectedly switch roles.
Donald Strangio said Dad may lose his job and now is collecting unemployment or working part time while Mom keeps her full-time job and becomes the family's primary breadwinner.
But this has created an opportunity for dads to get to know their children better, he said, and family members are relying more on each other,
as extended family members move in together under one roof to make ends meet.
"They are circling the wagons," Strangio said.
It wasn't an easy transformation for Daryl Bustamante.
He quit his job with a Bay Area cabinetmaker in February 2009 after the company told him it would cut his pay by three-fourths because of the recession. Daryl decided to go into business for himself, but it took months for work to come in.
For a year, he was angry, depressed and sometimes thought about suicide as he came to grips with losing his home and other possessions from a decade of marriage.
"I had those days where I didn't want to be married, didn't want to have a daughter around asking me for stuff I couldn't afford to give her," he said. "I didn't know how to pay the bills.
"I felt like I let my family down. I'd been told by everyone I've worked with in the industry that I had the most talent they had ever seen. I was told I'm good at what I do. I rode on that, that I'd always have work. When the economy took a dive, my self-esteem had a big awakening. It was humbling.
"If there is no work, there is no work."
But he said Jennifer kept telling him they had each other and that she loved him and his value to the family was not based on his paycheck. Daryl said it took time for that to sink in.
The husband and father of yesterday is gone.
Although he was providing expensive vacations, a mountain cabin and other material goodies, Daryl was no one's idea of father of the year.
He said he could be a jerk. Jennifer said he could be angry, judgmental and critical. He wasn't home much, either, because of his long commute and work hours. Daryl tried making up for it by being a husband and father on weekends, but often was exhausted.
It wasn't easy to deepen his relationship with Trinity. She had relied on her mom because her dad often wasn't there. When Daryl tried to impose discipline, like telling Trinity she couldn't have ice cream before dinner, she would run to mom in protest.
But now the 7-year-old snuggles with dad as they watch a movie on TV. Daryl loves to fish, and Trinity is his fishing buddy.
"Now, I can honestly say I want her to marry someone like her dad," Jennifer said. "Before, I'm not sure I could have said that. It means a lot to me as a woman and mother. You want what's good for your children. To see him being and trying to be a better father, it's really wonderful."
Daryl said he has a relationship with Trinity that he did not have with his two adult daughters when they were young. "I lost out on a lot with my other kids," he said.
He also has newfound respect for Jennifer. Before, he was quick to criticize if the laundry wasn't done or the dishes were dirty. Now he marvels at how much his wife did working full time, keeping house and looking after Trinity.
"My wife -- she worked her butt off," Daryl said. "Now that I'm doing it, I don't know how she did it all."
Daryl also has deepened his faith. He always believed in God, but Daryl said he was too busy to find the time for God. Now he prays and makes it to church about twice a month and is developing faith that everything will work out in its own time.
Life is better but not perfect. The family lives from paycheck to paycheck, and Daryl worries about work. But they have each other.
"All this stuff because of this economy, it's been a role reversal," Daryl said. "It's been wonderful to spend time with my family. On the other hand, it's been a curse, because we don't have everything. But we're eating every day, we have TV, radio, the Internet.
"We have each other. Before we had all the material things, but not the bond we have now."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.