by Leslie Morgan Steiner
In the run-up to Father’s Day, American media gushed about fatherhood like never before:
* USA Today screamed “Dad’s Pregnancy Hormones ” describing the changes (somewhat minor compared to moms’) that dads experience as fatherhood approaches. The subhead carried a National Inquirer-type claim: Changes Could Be Nature’s Way of Ensuring Baby Survives!
* “Paternal Bonds, Special and Strange ” was a New York Times Science front page full color exploration of how male animals and humans alike love babies: “No display carries higher status, or is more likely to impress the other guys, than to strut around the neighborhood with an infant monkey in tow.” Okay, the article is referring to macaques from North Africa’s Barbary coast, but I think we’ve all seen a dad or two in our own hood doing that strut.
* On the same day, the New York Times also ran “In Sweden, Men Can Have It All ” dissecting how government-mandated “daddy leave” has transformed parenthood and gender roles in Sweden since becoming law in 1995. Divorce and separation rates have dropped dramatically, and shared custody has increased. One wife said she finds her husband most attractive “when he is in the forest with a rifle over his shoulder and the baby on his back.” Rambo Dad, here we come.
And there’s even a documentary film, “The Evolution of Dad: Fatherhood is Finally Growing Up” by Dana Glazer. The 94-minute film “explores the changing role of fatherhood and meets some of the most unique and heroic dads of the new millennium. Prepare to be inspired and moved.”
Fawning articles, daddy support groups, documentary films: this is no trend. Not a manufactured-holiday-media-excuse-for-feel-good-articles. The new fatherhood is a movement that is gaining serious momentum, and is here to stay. Recent University of Maryland sociology data shows that dads today spend more than three times as much time with their children versus their own fathers – and the numbers are increasing every year. Which is a good thing for dads, kids, our entire country – and perhaps most of all, good for moms.
One of the benefits of 13 years of motherhood is that it takes a lot to get me riled up these days – ditto for inspired and moved, unless it’s the promise of a 94-minute afternoon nap in a bed I have all to myself. As a result, at first I looked askance at the boys joining the parenthood movement. Probably because my parenthood party is skidding into the teenage years and it’s been a long time since I worked up a froth about how many diapers my Darling Husband changed. What matters now is who is doing the 11 pm Bar Mitzvah carpool, not the 1 a.m. feeding. It’s tempting to play the wise seasoned mom, smiling kindly on the daddy support groups and the Baby Bjorn dads swaggering around the playground (exactly as I did 13 years ago).
But what a hypocrite I’d be then. The dads movement IS inspirational and motivational – for all the right reasons, namely, being intimately involved with your kids is manna from heaven no matter your gender. As much as moms have changed motherhood, dads were always an important missing piece. Dads getting seriously involved in childcare has the power to change fatherhood and motherhood far more than expanded FMLA or a new government daycare subsidy. Equality in parenting, and a dramatic increase in options for moms, will come only with dads being more involved in every tantrum and every diaper change of parenthood.
Within just the past week, I’ve witnessed the following: an eight year old girls’ birthday party run by dads with no moms in sight. President Obama’s most senior advisor absenting the White House to attend his daughter’s history project open house, a b-list happening that many parents with far less demanding jobs skipped . My own husband vacationing with our three kids while I stayed home for work and solo R&R.
It’s obvious that dads and their kids benefit from greater paternal involvement. But for every dad who handles drop off or does duty at the school book fair, there’s a mom who doesn’t have to miss an important presentation at work, cut corners on a brief she’s preparing, call in sick or trade sleep to check her emails late at night. In other words, when dads get more involved in childrearing, moms get more choices in the chaotic work/family juggling act -- a dose of balance moms, dads and kids all need. Happy Father’s Day, indeed.