Dad’s Evolving Role: Good News, Bad News

A father brushes his daughter’s hair while wearing the baby in a carrier.

A photo is shot. A sensation ensues. Viral immortality is attained.

Weeks later, that photo of blogger Doyin Richards with his two daughters is still being passed around, posted, and commented on. Thanks to that photo, Doyin has been featured in the media as the poster boy for Good Daddies, and horrifically, received plenty of racist hate mail as well.

In a post about the phenomenon, Richards says he has “a dream that people will view a picture like this and not think it’s a big deal.”

Pardon me, but I thought we were at that place already. The reaction to Doyin’s photo—which, don’t get me wrong, is absolutely beautiful—has been sobering and a bit eye-opening to me. In 2014, is the idea of a daddy doing the mundane task of brushing a child’s hair, of juggling the care for a baby and an older kid, really so surprising?

Apparently it is.

Doyin expressed his own surprise at the hubbub in a follow-up post: “I’m concerned that the bar for being a good dad is set so low that a dude can take a photo with his kids, post it online, and automatically become the ‘world’s greatest dad’ in the eyes of some because of it…. I just had no damn clue that a seemingly innocuous picture would be the reason why I popped up on the world’s radar. But hey–it’s pretty cool that a photo depicting what I do everyday for my kids is sparking a worldwide discussion regarding what fathers should do everyday for their kids.”

So instead of climbing on my involved-dad soapbox and proclaiming that The World Has Changed, that fathers are the new mothers, full partners in the care of our children, I will instead offer an “Amen” to Doyin’s dream. This whole episode has been a reminder to me that while the world has changed—fathers are involved in their children’s lives like never before—there is a glass-half-empty way to look at it as well.

True, so many of us are parents in the fullest sense of the word, and live in communities where that is the norm and is, indeed, unremarkable and even expected. But the growth in fathers’ involvement should not be mistaken for a full societal transformation, a revolution won. Change is slow and too many dads are still less-than-fully involved in their kids’ lives, to the detriment of their kids and themselves. This graph (from Pew, March 2013) illustrates both the progress that’s been made–the beginning of a convergence between moms’ and dads’ roles at home and in the workplace–as well as the sizable gulf that still exists:
Over time, parents’ roles have begun to convergeIf Doyin’s photo was so surprising to many people, I am sure it is equally shocking that dads, just like moms, struggle with work-life balance and feel torn between home and office. (The fact that Doyin was on a paternity leave from work when he took the photo would be a particularly foreign concept to many people.) It’s a challenge even Pres. Obama feels. He recently told the New Yorker’s David Remnick, “There have been times where I’ve been constrained by the fact that I had two young daughters who I wanted to spend time with—and that I wasn’t in a position to work the social scene in Washington.” Yes, even the president makes professional sacrifices to be home at night with his kids, and he is far from alone, as you can see in this chart:
Balancing work and family is hard for moms and dadsThese issues have been on my mind a lot lately. My wife is currently on maternity leave with our third child, so our usual roles–two working parents doing our best to juggle family and career as equally as possible–are temporarily transformed. Instead, I am the working dad and sole breadwinner, while she is the primary child care provider and stuff-around-the-house doer. These periods are a bit jarring, with our usual roles transformed. But the real challenges will begin when my wife returns to work and we need to figure out how to find work-life balance now that we have three children, one of whom is a baby.

I am excited, therefore, to be attending the Dad 2.0 Summit later this month in New Orleans. It’s a rare opportunity for me to meet other dads who blog about fatherhood and who struggle with the same challenges I do in maintaining work-life balance. Look out for more posts in the coming weeks about dads’ roles and the issues we face in the 21st century.

In the meantime, I’m off to brush my daughters’ hair in hopes of achieving my own 15 minutes of Internet fame.

Photo courtesy Doyin Richards of Daddy Doin’ Work.

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