With such a tidal wave of economic and societal forces shaping families, many posts on this blog chronicle the rapidly changing lives of American moms. Yet there’s one very large ripple on the pond I’ve yet to address.
It’s the changing life of Dads
. Parents magazine
published a special report last month called The New American Dad
. Among its findings:
-Fathers are now the primary caregiver for about one out of every four pre-school aged children
-American wives are more likely to have more education (not less) than their husbands, meaning Mom can now bring home even more bacon, possibly leaving Dad to fry it up in the pan
-Male-dominated vocations have been hardest hit in the recession. One in five men between the ages of 25-54 didn’t have a job as of December, 2009 – the highest rate of male unemployment since tracking began.
-Since the 1960’s, men have doubled the housework they do
-Men now report feeling more work/family conflict than women since expectations of fatherhood have increased, but expectations of being a committed worker have not (welcome to the club, fellas)
-When asked if they would give up more income for family time, most men and women answered yes
The article whetted my interest to learn more. To get a better grip on fatherhood, I reached out to Jeremy Adam Smith (pictured above), one of the Dads profiled in the Parents report. We met for breakfast in Palo Alto last week.
Jeremy is uniquely qualified to weigh in on all things fatherhood. Not only did he walk the walk, spending a year at home as the primary caretaker for his 1-year old son, but he’s also a recognized author on the subject. Jeremy’s 2009 book “The Daddy Shift” (just out in paperback) is a study of “reverse-traditional families.” Amazon.com
describes the book’s significance:
As Smith explains, stay-at-home dads represent a logical culmination of fifty years of family change, from a time when the idea of men caring for children was literally inconceivable, to a new era when at-home dads are a small but growing part of the landscape. Their numbers and cultural importance will continue to rise—and Smith argues that they must rise, as the unstable, global, creative, technological economy makes flexible gender roles both more possible and more desirable.
What I learned from talking with Smith was less about hard stats and more about an appreciation for the nowheresville that most Stay-at-Home Dads inhabit. According to Smith, Dads live in a state of permanent alienation.
“Everything is ‘mommy’ labeled. Men tend to parent in more goal-oriented ways and aren’t preoccupied with being liked or acknowledged. Some guys are proud of their SAHD status and blog about it and start groups of like-minded Dads to even the numbers at the playground. Others retreat and lead an almost invisible existence.”
Yet Smith also senses that men who stay home bear witness to the incompatibility of work and family life in today’s society. After Smith’s own son was born during a time he held a high-profile, high-pressure job, he had a recurring thought: “I need a new life.” Being an involved parent and a committed worker were at odds and totally unsustainable. Smith took a year off to care for his son which only cemented his commitment to insist upon flexibility upon his return to the workforce.
According to the Parents magazine report:
Fathers are expected to do more at home, be more involved in their kids’ lives, make a living – and do all of the above within a society in which child care is an often prohibitively expensive, informally organized, privatized hodgepodge.
Smith sees this conundrum as one that will ultimately force change in the American workforce that is long overdue. When Dads who have been the primary parent return to work, they bring an increased understanding of the demands of family and an appreciation for a workplace that honors its demands. The more voices that call for change within human resources departments, the more likely real change will come, in the form of flex-time, job sharing, telecommuting, and part-time positions.
To keep up with the new ways that men are talking about fatherhood -- without simply mimicking mothers -- I suggest you subscribe to Jeremy’s group blog, The Daddy Dialectic
, as I have done.
Reflecting upon the many issues Jeremy and I discussed, I feel a kinship. Just as he is helping men’s voices be heard in an industry typically dominated by women (parenting), I champion women’s voices in an industry typically dominated by men (advertising). The more our world reflects all of us, the more we all prosper. Or, more poetically, the more variety in the chorus, the better the music. Thanks, Jeremy.
Labels: Dads, Jeremy Adam Smith, Working Moms
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