People seem to think that my husband is an anomaly. He has spent the last three years splitting our parenting duties evenly, spending a day a week with our children and working the other four days. He took advantage of a program at his company that allowed him to have this schedule and, when he left it to start his own business, we made sure that he was still able to do it. He builds ramps out of cardboard boxes, teaches my son about cooking, encourages my daughter to cruise by tempting her with Cheerios, and adds little quirky things to our lives like “Twinkle Alligator” (the creative version of “Twinkle, Twinkle” that we sing to my son every night).
To me, none of this seems so strange. What does seem strange is when my husband comes home from dropping our son off at preschool and tells me that a woman stopped him on the street to congratulate him for spending time with his child…again. It also seems strange that, at music or tumbling classes, he is often the token dad in a sea of moms or nannies. He knows which places don’t have changing tables in the men’s bathrooms. He’s gotten used to looking for the smallest section on parenting websites labeled “For Dads” and has the one expectant father book that he feels is worth recommending from the small pool that exists. Even on Amazon, he has signed up for “Amazon Moms,” a service which allows you to sign up for regular deliveries of diapers, wipes, formula, etc. When looking at articles about work/life balance, he has noticed that they are always about moms. And when singing “Wheels on the Bus” to our children, we had to change the lyrics to say “The parents on the bus say ‘shh, shh, shh.”
It’s not like we live in an area (or a decade) that is so traditional with dad working and mom raising the kids. We don’t even live in a neighborhood where it’s always a dad and a mom; sometimes it is two moms or two dads or single parents. And I’m not as naive as to think that our parenting structure is how everyone’s is or should be. That said, several of our dad friends in the neighborhood are part or full-time weekday caretakers for their kids also. The ones who work during the week are out at the playground or taking their kids to classes on the weekends. Are they anomalies, too?
I could theorize that it’s generational, but my father also spent a day a week with us when we were growing up. Is he an anomaly, too? At the end of the day, if you have so many anomalies, at what point does this kind of fatherhood just become even somewhat conventional?
This all seems counter-intuitive, given society’s appeal for dads to be taking their roles more seriously. It doesn’t seem that we’re ready for dads to be involved. While my husband’s company did have a program that allowed him to be flexible with his time, that is not the case for most companies. While moms get maternity leave, paternity leave is usually no more than a week or two, at the most. These dads need built-in assistance, not just at work, but culturally, linguistically, and socially. They need dads’ groups, a holiday celebrating them that isn’t so sidelined, and to be active, positive characters in kids’ books. They need to know that it is not only expected that they follow through on their fatherhood but that it is welcomed and supported.