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Father's Day: In Defense of Dads

Dads are Getting Mixed Messages as Gender Roles Shift

Seeing that Father’s Day is right around the corner, I’d like to get a few things off my chest regarding dads.

Fatherhood is a hot topic lately, because – ironically enough -- mothers are making big news. With visionaries the likes of Sheryl Sandberg encouraging women to “Lean In,” women are winning the day across the board. Hanna Rosin’s 2010 piece “The End of Men” in The Atlantic painted a damning picture for modern-day men, citing the fact that women outnumber men in the workforce, are earning college degrees at a faster pace than men, and cast men as an antiquated gender that has failed to adapt to social and economic changes. And a new Pew Research study was released last week that showed women are now the breadwinners in 40% of American households.

To the credit of fathers, many dads are starting to see the light. With women reentering the workforce in record numbers, men are stepping up on the home front. In fact, the number of stay-at-home fathers has more than doubled in the last decade, with nearly 200,000 men filling the role of primary caregiver, according to U.S. Census figures.

Also, the Boston College Center for Work and Family has been studying fathers since 2010. The findings show a generation of men who are choosing to take on an added level of involvement than past generations. That’s why 65% of men surveyed think childcare and household tasks should be divided equally between men and women, and 77% of men seek ways to spend more time with their kids on a daily basis. Men 2.0 are diaper-changing, housecleaning guys who are no longer stressing about being the breadwinner, but about how to address work/life struggles so they can make it to tee-ball on time.

But despite clarion calls for involved fathers and statistics that prove kids with involved dads have enhanced cognitive abilities, stay in school, have increased self-confidence, wait longer to have sex for the first time and are less likely to be depressed, not everyone is pleased about this shift nor are they convinced dads are capable parents.

Of those polled in the Pew Research study, 51% said they believe a child is better off with a mother staying at home. But that number drops to 8% if a dad takes on the same role. Curious, isn’t it?

My son is 5 years old and I was his primary caregiver for the first couple years of his life, while my breadwinner wife provided for us as a bank manager. I did the dropping off and picking up at daycare, took him to the majority of doctor appointments, attended most of the play dates, and spent a lot of time taking him to playgrounds. And during that time, I can’t tell you the number of things that occurred which led me to the unmistakable conclusion that far too many people believe dads are second-class parents.

People asked me if I was “babysitting,” to which I not-so-politely replied no. I’m parenting. It’s impossible to babysit your own child. While performing the simple task of changing a diaper, I’ve had women come up to me and offer to do it for me – because surely a man doesn’t know how. If my son had a crying fit in public, people would come over to soothe him and say “Ohhhh, don’t worry sweetie. Mommy will be home soon.” And don’t get me started on the unfair criticism stay-at-home fathers face from people who think they’re lazy freeloaders.

And I’m not alone. The hundreds of fathers in my various dad groups both online and in-person have similar stories. There really is the mistaken belief that women have the parenting manual automatically and biologically imprinted into their DNA, while dads walk around dumbfounded just waiting to play golf. That sentiment is no doubt solidified by the countless TV shows and commercials that portray fathers as clueless morons who need mom to clean up our mess AND the kids’ messes.

But the only cluelessness on the part of fathers at the moment is confusion about what we can do to win some approval and appreciation.

More men are bucking traditional gender roles to take on additional duties at home, only to be criticized for not earning their keep. More men are becoming stay-at-home dads so their wives can go back to work, except few people believe men are capable of caring for their kids. If men work full-time we hear we’re not spending enough time at home, but if we commit to being at home full-time we’re contributing to the “disintegration of marriage” and causing “society to dissolve around us.

Talk about mixed messages.

Women and men are equally clueless when they become parents for the first time. People have to learn to be a parent, it’s not a flip that’s automatically switched in one gender or the other. Men are just as capable of taking care of kids as women, just like women are equally capable of succeeding in the workforce. Both should be encouraged as society evolves and we strive to do what’s best for our own families.

So this Father’s Day, let’s not condemn a generation of men who have made it a priority not to be absentee parents.

Happy Father’s Day.


Every year, Salary.com calculates what dads would be paid if fathers were actually compensated for the work they do at home. Click here to see what dads are worth in 2013. You can also read what some top dad bloggers had to say about men being valued less than women when it comes to parenting.