Thursday, March 02, 2006

Do Men Change Diapers? - Are New Dads more likely to have grown up in Divorced Families?

From Po:

Are New Dads more likely to have grown up in divorced families?

By all means, my mother was the dominant force in teaching me what kind of future-husband to be – her lessons on this were quite explicit (more on this in a later post). But there was a push-pull dynamic. My mom was pushing us to learn to clean house, cook, do laundry, and learn the language of emotion. It helped, I’m sure, that my Dad pulled in the same direction. When I went to his house, I saw him doing the very things my mom was telling me to learn (except perhaps the language of emotion).

From the age of eleven onwards, I spent a fair amount of time living with my father. I remember it being every other weekend, and a full month during the summer. In addition, during the school year, one of us three brothers spent a Wednesday night at Dad's, for one-on-one time. At the end of my freshman year of high school, I moved to my father’s permanently, and stayed there until I left for college.

Before my parents divorced, my father worked and my mother was a homemaker. So after the divorce, I watched my Dad constantly doing what had once been called “woman’s work.” He did the laundry every night, he cooked dinner (usually a piece of meat, a baked potato, and some iceberg lettuce salad – with a can of fruit cocktail on the side). My Dad liked his homes clean, so he was a stickler for picking up clothes, wiping the counters, and mopping the floors twice a week. At times, it felt like I was in the Army – “get on that mop, private!”

I rarely got to see my Dad work at his job, but I constantly got to see him cook and clean.

I haven’t seen any statistics on this, but it does set up the question: is it possible that a father today is more likely to parent in the New Dad mold if he came from a so-called “Broken Home”? This would be an interesting twist on the public shaming that divorced families received during that era. What if, in breaking homes into two, it actually helped give rise to a new type of father two decades later? All gender roles were blurred. We watched our moms work, and today we're comfortable with having working wives. We watched our dads clean and cook, and so we do more around the house as adults. Living under a single-parent (in either home) we were constantly recruited into the housework as a necessity - because every helping hand was needed.

I think back to my guy friends from high school. Those of us today who are most “New Dad” – (including that we married women with careers) – all came from divorced homes. Of those, not all got to see their fathers doing housework, because they did not get to see their father at all if he lived across the country. In that case, their mothers were the sole role model. Either way, because we came from divorced homes, we saw our parents (be it one or two) doing housework, cooking, and providing nurturing when necessary. We certainly did not have fathers who were able to perpetuate old stereotypes about the division of labor in a home.

For sure, New Dads come from every imaginable background. In my interviews, I hear every side of it. The correlation I suggest may not be there. But it has me wondering …


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