Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fatherhood 2.0

Fatherhood 2.0 - Time Magazine - 4th October 2007
By Lisa Takeuchi Cullen and Lev Grossman

Does being more of a father make you less
of a man? To a group of committed
assembled one night in a New Jersey diner,
the answer is obvious. Sort

Paul Haley, 38, a father of two, says women look at him when
he walks
down the street with his kids. "I think it's admiration,"
he says. Adam
Wolff, also 38 - with two kids and one on the
way - ponders what it means
to be a man. "Is my man-ness
about being the breadwinner or being a good
father to my kids
or something else?" Michael Gerber, 36, father of a
7-month-old, asks, "Do you mean, Do we feel whipped?"

"I'm probably a little whipped," shrugs Lee Roberts, 45. He's
a part-time
copy editor, married to a full-time journalist, who
has stayed home for
nine years to raise their two children.
"There are definitely some guys who
look at me and think,
'What's up with him?' Do I care? Well, I guess I do a
because I just mentioned it," he says. Haley speaks up to
him: "Kids remember, man. All that matters is that
you're there. Being
there is being a man."

But what does it mean, exactly, to be a man these days?
Once upon a
Darwinian time, a man was the one spearing
the woolly mammoth. And it
wasn't so long ago that a man
was that strong and silent fellow over there
at the bar with the
dry martini or a cold can of beer - a hardworking guy
in a gray
flannel suit or blue-collar work shirt. He sired children, yes,
he drew the line at diapering them. He didn't know what to
expect when
his wife was expecting, he didn't review bottle
warmers on his daddy blog,
and he most certainly didn't
participate in little-girl tea parties.
Today's dads plead
guilty to all of the above - so what does that make them?

As we fuss and fight over the trials and dilemmas of American
mothers, a
quiet revolution is occurring in fatherhood. "Men
today are far more
involved with their families than they
have been at virtually any other
time in the last century,"
says Michael Kimmel, author of Manhood in
A Cultural History. In the late 1970s, sociologists at the
University of Michigan found that the average dad spent
about a third as
much time with his kids as the average
mom did. By 2000, that was up to
three-fourths. The
number of stay-at-home fathers has tripled in the past

10 years. The Census counts less than 200,000, but
those studying the
phenomenon say it's probably 10
times that number. Fathers' style of
parenting has changed
too. Men hug their kids more, help with homework
tell kids they love them more. Or, as sociologist Scott
Coltrane of
the University of California, Riverside, says,
"Fathers are beginning to
look more like mothers."

Many dads are challenging old definitions of manliness.
"Masculinity has
traditionally been associated with work
and work-related success, with
competition, power,
prestige, dominance over women, restrictive
- that's a big one, " says Aaron Rochlen, an associate
professor of psychology at the University of Texas who
studies fatherhood
and masculinity. "But a good parent
needs to be expressive, patient,
emotional, not money
oriented." Though many fathers still cleave to the old

archetype, Rochlen's study finds that those who don't
are happier. Other
research shows that fathers who stop
being men of the old mold have
better-adjusted children,
better marriages and better work lives - better
and mental health, even. "Basically," says Rochlen,
is bad for you."

So are sugar doughnuts and beer bongs, and men hate to let
go of those too.
Women forced the revolution by staging one
of their own: in the 1970s they
began storming into the
workforce, making it harder for men to shirk child
What's more, they showed their sons that it's possible to
both work
and parent. Economic forces were at work as well:
for the entire 20th
century, every successive generation of
American men could expect to do
better financially than
their dads--that is, until Generation X. According
to a study
by the Pew CharitableTrusts, the median income for a man
in his
30s in 2004 was12% lower than it was in 1974, once
adjusted for inflation.
Men were forced to relinquish sole-
breadwinner status for their households
to stay afloat.

But how to forge a new idea of manhood for this brave new
two-income world?
Hollywood hasn't been much help. From
Michael Keaton in the 1983 movie Mr.
Mom to Adam Sandler
in Big Daddy (1999) to Eddie Murphy in Daddy Day Care

(2003), the sight of a man caught in the act of parenting has
been a
reliable laugh getter - always a good indicator of what
the culture
considers uncomfortable material. For every Pursuit
of Happyness, there's a
movie like this summer's Knocked Up,
which plays not so much as a tribute
to fatherhood as an effort
by men to convince themselves that fatherhood is
all right - and
the movie's happy ending is the least plausible thing about
One show at least managed to capture the tension: What were
those seven
seasons of The Sopranos about if not a man
fighting to reconcile the tender
pangs of a caring, new-style
father with the old-school masculine ideals of
violence and
stoicism - not to mention the psychological damage wreaked
him by his own old-school father?

Society hasn't made it easy for newly evolved dads to feel manly either. In
Rochlen's study of stay-at-home dads, those who scored low on measures of
traditional masculinity professed higher degrees of happiness in their
roles - as well as in their marriages, with their children and with their
health. But even they worried about how the rest of the world viewed their
choice - with some reason. "There's definitely a stigma out there," says
Rochlen. "The dads tell stories about mothers on the playground looking at
them like they're child molesters or losers."

Ironically, dads who take on parenting roles once considered emasculating
may simply be responding to nature. Studies have shown that men experience
hormonal shifts during their female partner's pregnancy. A man's
testosterone level drops after settling down to marriage and family,
perhaps in preparation for parenthood, as the male hormone is thought to be
incompatible with nurturing behavior. In one study, for example, men with
lower amounts of testosterone were willing to hold baby dolls for a longer
period of time than those with a higher count. In another, the very act of
holding dolls lowered testosterone.

More evidence of nature's intent to design men as active parents might be
seen in the effects of involved fathering on children. Given the
politically charged debates over same-sex unions and single parenting, it
is perhaps not surprising that the richest area in the nascent field of
fatherhood research is in the results of fathers' absence. David Popenoe of
Rutgers University has pointed to increased rates of juvenile delinquency,
drug abuse and other problems among children raised without a male parent
present. Research on the unique skills men bring to parenting is sparse but
intriguing. Eleanor Maccoby of Stanford University has found that fathers
are less likely than mothers to modify their language when speaking to
their children, thus challenging their kids to expand vocabulary and
cognitive skills. Fathers also tend to enforce rules more strictly and
systematically in reaction to children's wrongdoing, according to
educational psychologist Carol Gilligan. "Having a father isn't magic,"
says Armin Brott, author of seven books about fatherhood, "but it really
does make a difference for the kids."

When men take on nontraditional roles in the home and family, it also makes
a difference to the marriage. Coltrane of UC Riverside and John Gottman at
the University of Washington found in separate studies that when men
contribute to domestic labor (which is part and parcel of parenting), women
interpret it as a sign of caring, experience less stress and are more
likely to find themselves in the mood for sex. This is not to say that more
involved fathering has erased marital tensions or that it hasn't introduced
new ones. Dads admit they get fussed over for things moms do every day.
"Sometimes you're treated like a dog walking on its hind legs - 'Oh, look,
he can do laundry!'" says Jim O'Kane, 47, a father of two in Blackstone,
Mass. And some women resent ceding their role as top parent. When her
daughter fell down at a birthday party, Amy Vachon, 44, of Watertown,
Mass., recalls that the girl ran crying all the way across the room - to
her husband Marc. "I admit it hurt at the time," she says, "mostly because
I wondered what everyone thought. There's such a high standard in society
for the good mother."

It's a slippery slope: a recent Pew survey found that increasingly, parents
rank their relationships with their kids as more important than their
relationship with their spouse. Just as interesting, they rank their job
dead last. That most masculine of traits - the ability to go out into the
world and bring home a buck - is receding in importance for the men of
Generation X. Men's rates of labor-force participation have dropped from
just above 90% in 1970 to just above 80% in 2005. Almost a third of young
fathers (32%) say they dedicate more time to their children, while 28% say
they devote more time to their jobs.

Big employers are beginning to catch on. Deloitte & Touche,
PricewaterhouseCoopers, Xerox and IBM are urging family-friendly benefits
for their male employees and touting them to male recruits. California
recently became the first state to guarantee paid time off for new dads.
But the U.S. still lags far behind other countries: only 12% of U.S.
corporations offer paid leave for fathers of new babies (the U.S. Family
and Medical Leave Act enables workers in large companies to take up to 12
weeks off, but that time is unpaid), while dads in 65 other countries are
guaranteed paid paternity or parental leave; 31 countries offer 14 weeks of
it or more. At companies that offer and encourage paternity leave,
participation is high. KPMG reports that 80% of eligible workers have taken
paternity leave since it was first offered in 2002. Still, more than half
of working men say they would not take paternity leave even if it was
offered, most saying they could not afford it, others fearing it would harm
their careers--the same complaints long made by working women.

Today's fathers aren't the men their own fathers were but only if you
insist that the nature of masculinity doesn't change - that it's a
biological fact and not a mutable cultural construct. The new fathers are
creating a new ideal of masculinity. It's not as Mad Men cool, but it is
healthier. "The emerging and evolving norms of fatherhood and masculinity
challenge men to be a different kind of guy," says Rochlen. "But on the
positive side, it gives them new opportunity to embrace and enact these
dimensions that are good for them and good for their families." It's even
good for their emotional health. Coltrane says fatherhood is proving a
"safe pathway" for men to develop and explore their nurturing side. "It's
not considered wimpy or gay to hug your daughter," he adds. That's
something we can all embrace.

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