Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Do Men Change Diapers? – Myths about the New Fatherhood

From Po:

We’re hearing a lot about “The New Fatherhood” – men who are committed to their wives, who do their full share of housework, and who nurture their children intimately.

Ashley and I are going to explore this phenomenon over the next few posts. It came up in my interview-research frequently, and in our Factbook statistical research constantly.

A few comments to start us off:

1. These New Fathers do exist. I’m one, my brother’s one, my best friend’s one. If you’re reading this, then you’re more likely to be one too. We exist! And we’re a good thing, for families and society.

2. However, we don’t show up in the statistics. In the aggregate, men are not doing very right by their families, on any measure. Be it doing housework, making child support payments, or being monogamous – there’s no indication that a groundswell of New Fathers have budged the numbers. You would think if there were several million New Fathers fully pulling their load, the aggregate numbers would show some improvement. We are left to conclude that there are not as many New Fathers out there as we think.

3. Certainly, a lot of men think of themselves as being in the mold of the New Dad. But that doesn’t mean they actually live up to the billing. Ashley nicknamed them “Honey Dads.” It almost sounds like a compliment. But “the truth is, they're really only doing things at their wives'/mothers' request. She's the one who initiates everything, from telephoning relatives to calendar family activities to remembering that today's recycling day. The more she does, the more he does. So he may be so busy he even really thinks that he's the equal. But what he doesn't realize is that he doesn't really do anything until he hears: the all-important... ‘Oh, Honey, could you ...?’ Without the ‘Oh, honey,’ nothing would really happen, and it's really the wife/mom who's carrying the burden of domestic life. He's really just a spare hand she calls upon.”

4. Statistically, we are closer to some semblance of gender equality than in the past. But we’re still a long way from 50/50. And we didn’t get to this point because men are suddenly doing a lot more housework. Actually, what’s happened is that men no longer expect their wives to do so much housework and cooking. It’s that women are doing less, not men doing more.

We all agree that more New Fathers is a good thing. Even Honey Dads are useful to have around. So we’re going to explore the question, “What factors make a man more likely to be a New Dad?” What shapes a man into being one?

As well, we’re going to ask whether New Dads are really just acting like Old Moms. In assuming the role of nurturer, how do men hang on to their masculinity and swagger? Is manhood being redefined? I’d love your input here. I’m going to draw upon some of my interviews with single fathers and with stay-at-home Dads. The latter are a fascinating phenomenon. During the recession a couple years ago, stay-at-home dads were announced as a major trend. But there was nothing major about it. In addition, most of these dads only stayed home because they were laid-off while their wife was not – it was less a choice than an improvised and short-term solution. This is contrasted to the few stories I collected of true, lifelong/dedicated stay-at-home Dads.

We might bring in the history of father-participation in families (going back 40,000 years), and some cross-cultural views on fatherhood.

Lastly, I’m going to post about my own struggle with how to characterize this issue when writing Why Do I Love These People? I interviewed many New Dads, (because I was looking for them). Meanwhile, in story after story, I heard about fathers who neglected their children, who slept around, who worked too much, who were emotionally unavailable, who hit their children, et cetera. So was I right to assert, in my book’s introduction, that “Men Do Care”? Like many other authors, I called The New Dads a trend, even when I knew the true statistics didn’t back me up. Was that the right call?

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am curious to know if the new fatherhood idea is really news or is it that this idea received a lot of publicity in recent years?

My aunt married a man several years younger. He became my uncle and he was a first time dad at the age of twenty. He changed diapers.

By the time I was born, he had been in my family for many years.

I wonder about the new dads. Does it make any difference if the dads are younger or older than the moms?

My uncle's first born married twice and her second husband became a first time dad in his late 40s. He is also very involved as a Dad.

So I wonder if it is an age thing or does it depend on the man's personality?

5:43 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

I think that the new fatherhood idea is something that is both old and new.

What's old is the love in a human heart - the heart of a man OR woman. Old is the human response of having your attention captured by a smiling baby (or older child, don't mean to exclude anyone). Old is the desire to be loved and the pleasure at feeling a little hand in yours.

Unfortunately, what's also old is the constraints gender roles put on both men and women.

I worked in a maintenance office for 8 years. When I became pregnant with my first child, everyone had advice to offer. I spoke with men of all ages (as there were only 3 women in our building area). All of the older men were filled with regret that they didn't do certain things just because "in my day, a man just didn't _____ (fill it in)". All of the younger men had negative comments about this same philosophy and told me how glad they were that they ignored it various ways (i.e. bathed the baby, let the little daughters make up their faces and deck them out with 'jewelry' (I've seen photos, this is no exaggeration), encouraged their sons to freely choose 'female'(by no means do I personally agree with that) careers such as nursing, doing all the household sewing, etc.). A lot of the men had bad experiences with management regarding family leave - they were not given the same consideration as female workers when asking for time off to say, attend a school orchestra concert, chaperon a field trip, or more urgently, stay home with a sick child. My husband (working for a residential/commerical electrical contractor at the time) was harshly criticized by his boss (at his yearly review, yet) for missing the company golf outing because it was our son's 5th birthday. Men often complained that women were given as much time as they needed during the work day to express breast milk but they were reprimanded for making a simple 5-minute phone call every afternoon to see if their children were safety home from school. Both men and women criticize them for not being 'manly' enough. The Gatekeeper Moms criticize them for moving in on their territory (and moms like myself for "letting" them). In this context, I think that 'new' dads are an old institution.

What makes 'new' dads 'new' is the attention they have been getting from the media and the public support they have been getting from each other as far as starting 'groups', blogging, and so on. I think what's new is that both men and women (of all ages, but especially those over 55) are finally starting to realize that restrictive gender roles create a society in which people's ability to live independently is compromised. Old: the father (mine) who took his grade-school age daughters to his mother's for meals (three times a day!) while his wife is staying at the hospital for the birth of their third daughter. The daugher stranded at the roadside unaware of how to change a tire (myself - after the first time I asked a male co-worker to teach me how). New: that nowadays, the fathers I've spoken with are proud that their daughters can change a tire (opinion divided amongst the moms, supposedly due to fear of injury). What's new is that fathers and mothers are proud that their young son is willing to cook and that their teenager saved up for a car/bike/vacation by (hold your breath) babysitting.

I hope that my posting isn't 'disqualified' because I'm a woman. Husband is practicing bass accompaniment for older son's spring concert chorus performance and it's hard to find time for things (boys are out with aunts). I was visiting the site and thought I'd talk a bit. Hope I'm not sticking my female nose where it doesn't belong!

As long as I can remember, I've always felt sad about how society expects you to act just because your spirit arrived on earth packaged in a particular body.

Sorry to be so wordy, I could certainly go on but I thank you, the reader, for giving me your time.

I'll step off my soapbox and tell you a bit of my background, it surely colors the paint of my story. I'm 37, oldest of 3 girls (37, 35, 28). Stay-at-home, societally withdrawn mom. Domineering, compulsive-spending father. Feelings/thoughts were never kept to selves in house, everything was always out to air, no matter how inappropriate. Physical/verbal abuse in childhood, suicidal thoughts(religious fear of burning in hell kept me around) since childhood and fluoxetine in 2001. Father is still somewhat of a loose cannon but massive coronary damage/hospital stay took a lot of the starch out. Mother had physical abuse 'reform/renouncing' (truly was an event, still is a miracle) during a short-lived family therapy stint when youngest sister was 15. Other (middle, 2 1/2 younger than me) sister pregnant at 17 and 19 (has 2 wonderful teenagers raised without physically abusive drug addict father). Never wanted children of my own (at odds with then boyfriend-fiancee) till she had hers and I saw what wonders (small word for big thing!) they are. I married at 24 (hubby was 21) had oldest boy at 26, next boy at 28. I graduated from high school but worked since I was 15, after 18 at a Navy R&D facility facilities/maintenance department, clerical). I stay at home (initially to raise small boys) but now trying to refurbish house, school volunteering, church volunteering, etc. while husband works as commercial/industrial electrician. Arrangement works for us but I do not consider myself typical!

Husband is 34, only child. Parents social workers. Latchkey child at early age (8)? Says he was always treated like a miniature 40-year-old and not allowed to be a kid. No physical/verbal abuse. Conflict and emotion of any kind was always treated as something that the uneducated lower classes were burdened with, that people of their caliber were above such uncivilized behavior dictated by emotion. No physical contact whatsoever, not even a kiss before bedtime. Have to take a side note here and say that no matter what the hour (I moved from parents' house when I was married at 24)(it was usually around 3 in the morning embarrassed to say) I would give my father (insommniac/worrier) a kiss goodnight (on the cheek!) before I went to bed. Back to hubby's parents, father is passive type, mother is domineering and agressive. Mother repeatedly expresses how she is ashamed that her son did not graduate from college.

Early in the marriage, conflict was a problem as I was determined to avoid it (what a fool I was) because I'd lived with constant fighting. Husband was determined to avoid because he'd been raised to fear it and that it was 'abnormal'. Thankfully, after much animosity and endless hours of talking, we were able to identify and work to resolve this issue (whew!). Both honestly feel we have a wonderfully happy marriage and have good goals for our boys. We are on good terms with his parents (they live a mile away, I thought he should call them every day to say hello (also they are 65 & 81) but they told him he was more or less being a pest) so we talk about 1-2 times a week on the phone, see each other about every 2. My parents live 3 blocks away, I talk on the phone almost every day and see about 3x/week. When sister and children lived with parents (last 12 years) visited every day. This sister lives 10 miles away with boyfriend and her teens, we talk at least 3x/week, see at least once, teens and I 'instant message' at least once a week for about an hour or so. Other (youngest) sister, talk and see same amount.

Sorry for talking so much, have so much more to say, I often think it's a wonder that I'm even here but thanks, site moderators and readers, for your time, and thanks Mr. Bronson (being too formal??) for 'Why Do I Love These People' the eternal question and an eternally great book!

12:42 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

I think that the new fatherhood idea is something that is both old and new.

What's old is the love in a human heart - the heart of a man OR woman. Old is the human response of having your attention captured by a smiling baby (or older child, don't mean to exclude anyone). Old is the desire to be loved and the pleasure at feeling a little hand in yours.

Unfortunately, what's also old is the constraints gender roles put on both men and women.

I worked in a maintenance office for 8 years. When I became pregnant with my first child, everyone had advice to offer. I spoke with men of all ages (as there were only 3 women in our building area). All of the older men were filled with regret that they didn't do certain things just because "in my day, a man just didn't _____ (fill it in)". All of the younger men had negative comments about this same philosophy and told me how glad they were that they ignored it various ways (i.e. bathed the baby, let the little daughters make up their faces and deck them out with 'jewelry' (I've seen photos, this is no exaggeration), encouraged their sons to freely choose 'female'(by no means do I personally agree with that) careers such as nursing, doing all the household sewing, etc.). A lot of the men had bad experiences with management regarding family leave - they were not given the same consideration as female workers when asking for time off to say, attend a school orchestra concert, chaperon a field trip, or more urgently, stay home with a sick child. My husband (working for a residential/commerical electrical contractor at the time) was harshly criticized by his boss (at his yearly review, yet) for missing the company golf outing because it was our son's 5th birthday. Men often complained that women were given as much time as they needed during the work day to express breast milk but they were reprimanded for making a simple 5-minute phone call every afternoon to see if their children were safety home from school. Both men and women criticize them for not being 'manly' enough. The Gatekeeper Moms criticize them for moving in on their territory (and moms like myself for "letting" them). In this context, I think that 'new' dads are an old institution.

What makes 'new' dads 'new' is the attention they have been getting from the media and the public support they have been getting from each other as far as starting 'groups', blogging, and so on. I think what's new is that both men and women (of all ages, but especially those over 55) are finally starting to realize that restrictive gender roles create a society in which people's ability to live independently is compromised. Old: the father (mine) who took his grade-school age daughters to his mother's for meals (three times a day!) while his wife is staying at the hospital for the birth of their third daughter. The daugher stranded at the roadside unaware of how to change a tire (myself - after the first time I asked a male co-worker to teach me how). New: that nowadays, the fathers I've spoken with are proud that their daughters can change a tire (opinion divided amongst the moms, supposedly due to fear of injury). What's new is that fathers and mothers are proud that their young son is willing to cook and that their teenager saved up for a car/bike/vacation by (hold your breath) babysitting.

I hope that my posting isn't 'disqualified' because I'm a woman. Husband is practicing bass accompaniment for older son's spring concert chorus performance and it's hard to find time for things (boys are out with aunts). I was visiting the site and thought I'd talk a bit. Hope I'm not sticking my female nose where it doesn't belong!

As long as I can remember, I've always felt sad about how society expects you to act just because your spirit arrived on earth packaged in a particular body.

Sorry to be so wordy, I could certainly go on but I thank you, the reader, for giving me your time.

I'll step off my soapbox and tell you a bit of my background, it surely colors the paint of my story. I'm 37, oldest of 3 girls (37, 35, 28). Had a stay-at-home, societally withdrawn mom. Domineering, compulsive-spending father. Feelings/thoughts were never kept to selves in house, everything was always out to air, no matter how inappropriate. Physical/verbal abuse in childhood, suicidal thoughts(religious fear of burning in hell kept me around) since childhood and fluoxetine in 2001. Father is still somewhat of a loose cannon but massive coronary damage/hospital stay took a lot of the starch out. Mother had physical abuse 'reform/renouncing' (truly was an event, still is a miracle) during a short-lived family therapy stint when youngest sister was 15. Other (middle, 2 1/2 younger than me) sister pregnant at 17 and 19 (has 2 wonderful teenagers raised without physically abusive drug addict father). Never wanted children of my own (at odds with then boyfriend-fiancee) till she had hers and I saw what wonders (small word for big thing!) they are. I married at 24 (hubby was 21) had oldest boy at 26, next boy at 28. I graduated from high school but worked since I was 15, after 18 at a Navy R&D facility facilities/maintenance department, clerical). I stay at home (initially to raise small boys) but now trying to refurbish house, school volunteering, church volunteering, etc. while husband works as commercial/industrial electrician. Arrangement works for us but I do not consider myself typical!

Husband is 34, only child. Parents social workers. Latchkey child at early age (8)? Says he was always treated like a miniature 40-year-old and not allowed to be a kid. No physical/verbal abuse. Conflict and emotion of any kind was always treated as something that the uneducated lower classes were burdened with, that people of their caliber were above such uncivilized behavior dictated by emotion. No physical contact whatsoever, not even a kiss before bedtime. Have to take a side note here and say that no matter what the hour (I moved from parents' house when I was married at 24)(it was usually around 3 in the morning embarrassed to say) I would give my father (insommniac/worrier) a kiss goodnight (on the cheek!) before I went to bed. Back to hubby's parents, father is passive type, mother is domineering and agressive. Mother repeatedly expresses how she is ashamed that her son did not graduate from college.

Early in the marriage, conflict was a problem as I was determined to avoid it (what a fool I was) because I'd lived with constant fighting. Husband was determined to avoid because he'd been raised to fear it and that it was 'abnormal'. Thankfully, after much animosity and endless hours of talking, we were able to identify and work to resolve this issue (whew!). Both honestly feel we have a wonderfully happy marriage and have good goals for our boys. We are on good terms with his parents (they live a mile away, I thought he should call them every day to say hello (also they are 65 & 81) but they told him he was more or less being a pest) so we talk about 1-2 times a week on the phone, see each other about every 2. My parents live 3 blocks away, I talk on the phone almost every day and see about 3x/week. When sister and children lived with parents (last 12 years) visited every day. This sister lives 10 miles away with boyfriend and her teens, we talk at least 3x/week, see at least once, teens and I 'instant message' at least once a week for about an hour or so. Other (youngest) sister, talk and see same amount.

My initial reason for writing was to say this: In our case, my husband has become a 'new' dad and I have become a wife who accomodates such simply because we want our children's lives to have what ours lacked.

Sorry for talking so much, have so much more to say, I often think it's a wonder that I'm even here but thanks, site moderators and readers, for your time, and thanks Mr. Bronson (being too formal??) for 'Why Do I Love These People' the eternal question and an eternally great book!

12:52 PM  
Blogger PandaShovel said...

Luclily after months of training I was finally able to get my husband to change some diapers. One problem still is the monster cost of diapers. Luclily my neighbor told me about 1 800 DIAPERS.com. I checked them out like any other smart shopper and they did have much better prices than our grocery store. I was impressed, then she also told me about the referral code REMA8993. With that code I saved an extra $2 and got no shipping no tax. That just made my day, actually it made my week. Now I don't really care if my husband changes the diapers or not, everytime I stand at the changing table I am reminded of how much of a smart shopper I really am.

10:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a father of a four-year-old still in diapers and rubber pants (my pediatrician has advised NOT to force potty training), I can assure you I change my son's messy diaper daily and willingly, too. He's very healthy and regular. I love being a dad and I'm relishing every minute!

11:48 AM  

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