Fatherhood, Manhood, and Having it All

Fatherhood, Manhood, and Having it All

Connor Williams, who works for The New America Foundation, wrote on June 28 in The Daily Beast about his experiences as a stay-at-home father and about why we need to change our views of masculinity and praise caretaker dads.  He explains in his article that “even in his Beltway (DC area) enclave, dads like me face pretty constant, emasculating ridicule for putting fatherhood above career.”  Although he asks readers whether or not this is as it should be, the answer he has already come to accept as truth is clear:  he sees himself as a “new” man, as someone whose version of masculinity includes shouldering the bulk of our family’s childcare.  

Williams reminds us that if women are to have improved professional opportunities that it “won’t happen in a vacuum” and that “if men are part of the problem, they must also be part of the solution.”  He brilliantly states that “professional flexibility for women rests upon a more flexible view of masculinity.”  He offers the following solutions for supporting caretakers and breadwinners, no matter what their gender may be:

1)  Employers should offer parents flexible work schedules that allow them to find a sustainable work-life balance.

2)  Employers should offer better, more flexible maternity leave policies that expand paternity leave and allow parents to share paid time off after the birth of a child.  He adds that employers would insist that  dads take the leave they’re entitled to.

3)  We should expand public child care and  preschool options that support parents’ return to work.

4)  Praise and encourage dads who stay home with their children in order to open career opportunities for women from entry-level jobs to the boardroom.

In the end, Williams tells us “Compared to most dads, I’m holding a winning hand:  I live in one of the most liberal, highly educated cities in the United States;  my employer allows me to work a flexible schedule; I have two masters degrees and a Ph.D.; and switching the traditional parenting roles works for my marriage.”  He worries about the “unluckier dads” who will catch flak for raising their kids, and believes they may actually be “doomed.”  

Williams’ points are well-taken in my household, as my husband and I have always struggled to find the perfect balance between being the ones raising our children and advancing our careers.  Over the course of the 17 years we have been raising children, there have been times when we both worked and the children were in childcare, when he or I was the stay-at-home-parent while the other worked full-time, or when each of us worked part-time and was the stay-at-home-parent while the other worked, in a type of “split” shift parenting/working situation.  Our constant struggle to find the perfect balance for our family’s financial needs, our own career advancement, and our children’s needs to have their parents around had significant repercussions on both mine and my husband’s career paths and earning potential, as well as on how our children have turned out:  they are all healthy, bright, pretty well-adjusted kids who are not in any sort of serious “trouble.”  

When I asked my husband today if he ever felt emasculated when he was a stay-at-home dad when he was between careers and we had had our third child in 3 years when our daughter, Eva, was born in February, 1999, he said:

I enjoyed it and always received positive comments from on-lookers when I was the only dad on the playground, but subconsciously it never sat well with me.  I always felt I should be out there earning.  It wasn’t consciously bothering me to be a stay-at-home dad, but it was simply eating at me.  Since there was nothing to be done about it, there was no point in really thinking about it, but it did bother me subconsciously.  

But, then he went on to tell me that now he knows it was all worth it.  He recounted a conversation between him and our our 17-year old daughter Calli, who attends an all-girl boarding school in one of the Beltway enclaves Williams references in his article.  Over the course of the conversation, Calli told him she was grateful she had had an involved dad who had been a significant part of her life growing up, since when she sees girls at her school with problems, they are more often than not “daddy issues.”  Although she didn’t go into detail with him about what having “daddy issues” meant, she did say that the fact that he was a loving, supportive dad who took the time to be involved, whether that was by cooking breakfast and dinner, attending school plays and sporting events or just being their to teach a life lesson when the moment called for it, made a significant difference in her and Eva’s life.  She told him he could rest assured that she and her sister Eva would never have “daddy issues” because of the kind of dad he was. After he heard this, he realized that any amount of self-respect he had lost along the way was instantly replaced by pride, joy, and gratefulness that his two teenage daughters were who they were because of his direct influence.  

That should be proof enough for all of us that what Williams and others believe about allowing parents the flexibility they need to work and raise children at the same time, regardless of their gender, is beyond crucial for today’s children. It’s certainly an issue for moms and dads everywhere.  I believe we’re making in-roads by putting the topic up for discussion at all levels from playgrounds to boardrooms to the halls of government.  However, the discussion has only just begun and it will take many more conversations and steps before every family has what they need in order to give their children what they need for success in school and life.

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