Modern day Father's Day

Published: Sunday, June 16, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 14, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.

I'm a child of the 1980s, but my upbringing might as well have happened in the '50s.

I was raised by a homemaker mother and father who was the family's breadwinner. I felt like I had a great childhood, but my daughter is growing up under much different circumstances.

Both my wife and I work, so our 19-month-old daughter Kate is in daycare. Our situation is increasingly the norm. Both parents work in about 60 percent of two-parent U.S. households with children under age 18, according to the Pew Research Center.

Much has been written over the past year about the implications of women being an increasing force in the workforce. In a much-discussed story in The Atlantic, former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote about the difficulty of women maintaining a work-life balance. She promoted cultural and policy changes to better allow working women to raise children.

But what about men? In a recent issue of Esquire, Richard Dorment painted another picture "in which women are asked to make the same personal sacrifices as men past and present — too much time away from home, too many weekends at the computer, too much inconvenient travel — but then claim some special privilege in their hardship."

That may be too harsh, but Dorment's larger point is solid: Men are spending more time with their kids, are more involved at home and are working harder at their jobs than ever before, yet are sometimes told in the media that we're the problem and need to do more.

Maybe Dormant is looking at things the wrong way. Another recent essay — you know you're getting older when your friends keep sharing these kind of things on Facebook — outlined five reasons why it's a good time to be a dad.

Writing for the Greater Good Science Center, Jeremy Adam Smith included reasons such as a growing acceptance of stay-at-home dads and men getting more time with children through paternity leave.

I must admit this initially angered me. First off, being a stay-at-home dad isn't an option to many families struggling to pay the bills with even two working parents. As for paternity leave, it's too easily thrown out there as some great innovation.

I took leave after Kate's birth and quickly realized that with my wife breastfeeding, I was useless for anything but changing diapers. I'd rather the conservation be about flexible work schedules for both parents over their children's whole lives.

But Smith is right that there is a better chance to be a good father today. Fathers' time with their children has tripled since the mid-1960s, simply giving dads more time to develop parenting skills.

Smith also argued that the disappearance of traditional gender roles and growing acceptance of homosexuality don't constitute some sort of crisis. Instead, it's an opportunity to tell a new story about fatherhood.

He's right, but it's also somewhat terrifying to be raising a child in such a complicated world. It's a task that fathers and mothers share to a much greater degree today.

As we mark Father's Day, maybe it's time to give dads some credit — and also help them figure out what being a father means at a time when the world is changing so quickly.

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