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Father's Day is the New Mother's Day

Logically, I’ve chosen to write about Father’s Day for this month’s column. I’m a father. Father’s Day is in June. Makes perfect sense.

Illogically — it may seem at first glance — I’ve chosen to headline this column with what could be taken as a divisive statement. I fully realize that moms make up the majority of the readership of this magazine and I can hear the reaction now… “Father’s Day is the new Mother’s Day! What kind of a jerk wrote that! He’s trying to take Mother’s Day away from us!”

But wait. Just wait. Hear me out. I’m not trying to take anything away from moms. I sincerely hope that every mom out there was treated like royalty for at least one day last month. I hope that your significant other pampered you with breakfast in bed and showered you with flowers. I hope that your kids drew wonderful crayon portraits of you with the words “I LOVE YOU, MOM” scrawled across the top of the page. I hope that you felt truly appreciated. I hope that you felt the love.

It’s just that things are changing for families across America — in particular, fathers are more actively involved in the day-to-day care of their kids than ever before — and I have a feeling that dads are going to start to feel the love, too. So, goodbye cliché present (necktie, mug, grilling apron), hello heartfelt appreciation.

The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting are Transforming the American Family (Beacon Press, 2009) is a wonderful and important book by journalist Jeremy Adam Smith. You should check it out. It details the way fatherhood is being redefined in our country.

Smith argues that changes in attitudes and economics over the past 40 years or so have altered what American society expects of a father and what a father expects of himself. The result is that our country is a pretty progressive place for dudes today.

Smith goes straight to the source — his own father — for some historical perspective. His old man told him that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, “the idea that a mother could have a career and be a mom was the radical thought of the time. The thought that Dad would stay home was not considered. If it was, nobody told me, and the thought never entered my head.”

In other words, the prevailing attitude in this country had been that men work and women stay home to raise the children. Most people couldn’t even envision a different way of doing things. Now, of course, all of that has changed.

For American women, things changed radically in the 1960s when they fought for the option to enter the workplace. That’s what women wanted — the simple option — to decide if they wanted to work, stay home to raise children, or both.

For American men, gaining “options” — like the option to stay home as the primary caregiver to their children — came later and more subtly. Smith writes that “in the early 1980s, signs appeared that younger men and women were open to the possibility of a reverse-traditional arrangement, with female breadwinners and male caregivers. This momentous cultural change did not, of course, happen all at once. There was no epochal thunderclap and no storming of the Bastille — just an accumulation of decisions made by ordinary fathers and mothers who only wanted what was best for their kids and themselves.”

Economics have played a large part in driving this attitude shift. Smith notes that in the 1950s, women made half as much as men for the same work. Today, women make about 80 percent as much as men. It’s still not fair, but it is significant enough of a gain to make the notion of “mom as the primary breadwinner” viable. That notion is also buoyed by the fact that women are now just as likely as men to have completed college and to hold an advanced degree.

In turn, today’s open-minded American man is pretty OK with all of this. A 2007 poll by Monster.com found that 68 percent of American men would consider staying home full-time with their kids. That means that nearly seven out of 10 guys are willing to consider taking on the day-to-day, nitty-gritty care of their children. I’m talking tenderly diapering and feeding babies, lovingly tending to the scraped knees of preschoolers, and devotedly counseling confused teenagers. Those kinds of moments, those intimate interactions, are the reason why children have such a special bond with their mothers — and why we send them heartfelt gifts for Mother’s Day. Increasingly, dads want in on that action.

Fathers will never, ever take the place of mothers. Don’t worry about that. But men are spending more time with their children than ever before (both as stay-at-home dads and super-involved working fathers) and, on Father’s Day, they will receive those heartfelt gifts — not because they want or need the accolades, but because their children will want to say thanks.

Brian Kantz never thought of himself as a revolutionary figure before, but he thanks author Jeremy Adam Smith for pointing it out. Visit Brian online at www.briankantz.com or drop him a note at thenewbiedad@yahoo.com.

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