Meet The Modern Dad
Every day, attractive women come by my office to chat. Breast health is a common topic. We also look at pictures of naked bottoms and pick the best one. On a really good day, I'll receive a box of yogurt puffs to sample. Based on this description, some guys might think I have a killer gig. My job title: executive editor of Babytalk.
That's right: a dad editing a baby magazine. Let's be honest. This is not a traditional role for a guy. I push tandem strollers through the halls of our building, inspiring all manner of rubbernecking. I receive emails that read, "Shawn, as a mom I'm sure you'll love this new bouncy seat." I am a pro football fanatic who knows the best brand of binkies. I can hook up a DVD player and swaddle a newborn.
I am a 21st-century pop.
This new species of father can be found reasserting his place in America's homes and play groups, territory that has traditionally been dominated by moms. He's also shattering societal norms that were established generations ago. Take, for instance, my own family's birthing history: My grandfather didn't go to the hospital during my father's delivery. My father sat in the waiting room when I was born. I held my wife's leg as my first son, Jackson, came into the world.
"The traditional image of the father is one of lawgiver, moral arbiter, disciplinarian and CEO of the home economy," writes Jeremy Adam Smith, author of The Daddy Shift: How Stay-At-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family. "[This was] the opposite of the mother, who submissively cared for husband, children and home."
A number of factors -- a growing population of women in the workforce, an unsteady economy and stale cultural stereotypes -- are forcing modern parents to redefine gender roles and change the very definition of father and mother. "Historically, dads have had a good understanding of needing to be a provider," says Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting responsible fatherhood. "Today's dad understands that's not enough. You must provide, but also nurture and guide. That heart-to-heart connection is critical."
Forget about the guy who came home from work, patted his kids on the head, fell into a recliner and reached for the remote. Today's dad has more of himself invested in the role. He's the guy who, ahem, works at baby magazine. He's also the divorced dad sharing custody of an 8-month-old daughter. And the stay-at-home dad who works at night, the dad blogger with a devout female following, and the multiracial, multi-tasking Washington, D.C., father known to take daughters Sasha and Malia out for snow cones.
On the cusp of Father's Day, we ask: What do we really know about the 21st-century pop? And what do moms think about him?
The stay-at-home dad population is growing, and a lot of guys want a piece of the action.
More fathers than ever are participating in their children's nurturing and upbringing. A fair bellwether for that statement is the ever-increasing population of stay-at-home dads. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 105,000 fathers stayed home to care for their families in 2002. Six years later, that figure jumped 33 percent to 140,000. Of course, that number does not include fathers who work from home either full time or part time, or same-sex couples who have adopted. Nor does it include the recent trend of more men than women being laid off during the recession, a likely contributor to the stay-at-home dad population.
Let's not forget the dads who wish they were home. In 2007, Careerbuilder.com conducted a survey of 1,521 working dads and found that roughly 37 percent said they would leave their job if a spouse or partner made enough money to support their family; 38 percent would take a pay cut to spend more time with their children. In a survey conducted by the NFI, men were asked to specify the biggest obstacle to being a good father. Nearly half of all respondents said "work responsibilities."
Lance Somerfeld is a 36-year-old father in New York City. When his son was born in 2008, the public-school teacher decided to take advantage of the school system's child-care leave policy: A parent can take unpaid time off for up to four years, with a guarantee that a similar position will be available upon his or her return. Thanks to his wife's well-paying job as an actuary at an insurance company, Somerfeld has been a stay-at-home dad for all 22 months of his son's life. "A lot of my dad friends are envious," says Somerfeld. "They wish they had as much time with their children."
What mom should know: Fathers participating more and more in their children's upbringing isn't a trend but a permanent shift. "More men are organizing their lives around their families," says Ben Siegel, M.D., FAAP, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, which shapes policies regarding family well being and parenting. "In the past, men have been expected to work and provide financial support for the family. More recently, many men are choosing to share in child rearing and participating in running the household."
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