It’s Father’s Day, and I am so excited for all the new daddies out there!
We have 3 in our family alone: my son, who just became a dad for the second time 2 months ago; our son-in-law, whose baby was born last week; and our other son-in-law, who will become a first-time daddy next month.
This is a great time to become a dad, as compared with some 50 years ago.
Back then, societal norms summarized dads as the providers for the family and maybe the disciplinarians for the children, with women staying at home and doing everything else for the kids, from changing diapers to teaching them to ride their bikes to cleaning the house to kissing away salty tears and on and on and on and on.
That particular division of labor may have made sense at one time, but it set up minimal expectations for dads, sending the message that men aren’t needed as caregivers. It also implies that women wouldn’t want or need careers or to contribute to the world beyond their own families.
At some point, a shift began to emerge. I saw it when I worked with young moms who separated from the baby daddies and were trying to work out child support.
In one particular instance, a dad insisted on a 50/50 split so he wouldn’t have to pay the ex-partner as much as if she had the kids the majority of the time. I remember being mortified that this dad felt it was appropriate to set up this arrangement to avoid paying more, and that the judge allowed it floored me. Over time, however, I began to eat my words, as I started to see some tremendous benefits. Not only did a greater involvement with dad free up my co-worker to continue building her career, but the dad and son started to develop a relationship that would never have happened otherwise.
I don’t recall having had much alone time with my dad other than for Saturday morning car washes and one particular weekend when my mom went away to be with her girlfriends. I’m sure he had been nervous about the weekend, too, and I bet he was relieved when she came home.
I contrast my childhood relationship with my dad with the times I see my son having with his kids, primarily his playful 2 ½ year old daughter. She paints his toenails sparkly pink, together they sing and dance to Disney songs, they run around in sprinklers in the back yard, dig in the dirt and throw a football around when it’s his turn to pick the activity. I’ve never seen my son look as happy and relaxed. Playtime is healthy and fun for everyone, regardless of age.
There is infinite potential for dads to get in the game, to bond with the baby early on and right alongside their partners. Moms may start off one step ahead, given that they house the baby in utero and can nurse them with milk they produce (if they decide to).
While this unique distinction can’t be overlooked, the fact remains that a good man who wants to be a good dad can parlay this parenting gig into anything he wants it to be.