My father influenced the course of my life in two dramatic ways. Before I could read, he took me to the public library and read me all the Madeline and Babar the Elephant books. We must have spent hours and hours doing this – me on his lap, his chin resting lightly on the top of my head – because it is one of my clearest memories. These same stories were among the first I bought and read to my own children, and I still give them often as baby or birthday gifts.
Years later, the night before I left for my first year of college, he told me not to become “one of those radical, militant feminists, because it is just so unattractive.” My father died 20 years ago, before any of his grandchildren were born, to our great loss. On the other hand, I grew up to be a French major, a mainstream, non-violent, but passionate feminist, and a constant advocate for the well-being and financial security of those who do the world-changing work of motherhood. Down with patriarchy!!
As backyard grills are primed for this weekend’s Father’s Day festivities, I ponder my father’s influence on my life and how fathering has changed since Madeline had her appendix out and Babar married Celeste. Dads today are likely more hands on, because they want to be and because their wives probably join them in the paid workforce. Just like mothering has become a mix of caring and earning, fatherhood has too, although the exact split varies from household to household and over the family’s lifespan. Still, something is changing.
Are men finally stakeholders in the caregiving movement? Will they push for more work/flex, step up to PTA leadership, and pack the diaper bag before leaving the house? Advocates have said for years that it will take men shouldering more of the unpaid domestic labor for women to find real parity at all levels of society. Maybe the recession has pushed some men into the house unwillingly, but does that mean that as soon as another job opens up, the front door will slam shut behind them? The macho, competitive working dad can do and does more carpools, more scout camping trips, and signs more permission slips than he used to. But will that tip the balance for women and make it easier for mothers to have a life? A new study from The Center for Work & Family at Boston College suggests there may be reason to hope.
Our studies on today’s fathers showed encouraging signs on the parenting front – fathers who were significantly committed to and acting on their desire to be engaged caregivers – while at the same time documenting the frustrations they felt when they were unable to do so. But there were some seemingly obvious flaws in most of our participants’ career-life planning that perhaps led to their frustration. While more than three-fourths of the fathers we surveyed wanted to spend more time with their children, virtually the same number were looking for a job with greater responsibility – and nearly 60% said they would like to attain a position in senior management in their very large organizations. What may have been missing is the understanding that perhaps these competing desires simply did not add up. It seemed that these men were trapped in the myth of “having it all”.
Men’s integration into life at home may be just as hard, it turns out, as the great shift of women into the workforce. At least now, perhaps, all parents realize that imperfection is the norm, good enough is okay after all, and it’s reasonable for moms and dads to expect meaningful work and a fulfilling connection to their children, even at the same time. None of us is as strong as all of us. Carework affects everyone.
So, dads, fire up that grill, and step up to the causes we moms have been pushing for years. And have a happy Father’s Day!
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington