June 18, 2018
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Dads man up — and change the diapers

By Petula Dvorak, The Washington Post

Please. No more grilling accessories, neckties or sports gear.

These are our Dad’s Father’s Day gifts, when Dadfood meant occasional meat and fire, the tie was Pop’s power and major parenting moments usually meant sports.

Nope. Today’s ultimate dad gets a roomy diaper bag in granite canvas; Spanx for men for when he goes back to work after months of wearing elastic-band pants on paternity leave; and the book-of-the-moment that perfectly encapsulates the joys and frustrations of parenting: “Go the [expletive] to Sleep.”

The fact that a man wrote it and that millions of men love the profane little book about getting their sweet angels to shut up and doze off every night speaks volumes about the state of American fatherhood.

In a good way.

Getting that granular about parenting means that more dads are in on the inglorious grunt work of raising children: the bathroom trips, the nightmares, the stuffed animal crises.

And it means the long, slow turning of gender stereotypes and social roles in our society is actually changing with whiplash speed, when you look at all the centuries that dads were clueless about that stuff.

Best example? Our military, actually.

For a Mother’s Day column, I set out to profile military moms who find ways to stay connected to their children while they are deployed. Their stories were interesting, poignant and inspirational.

But the other — and equally revolutionary — part of that story was the dads.

In most of the married couples I spoke with, Dad took the back seat to Mom’s military career and stayed home to take care of the kids while wifey was jumping out of helicopters in the Hindu Kush or pitching tents in the desert.

While Lt. Col. Michelle Rose was commanding the Virginia National Guard’s 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in Afghanistan, her husband was home in Virginia Beach parenting their three girls. This wasn’t Mr. Mom, videos-and-pizza survival stuff. He was making decisions, going to doctor’s appointments, scheduling activities, attending meetings, co-parenting.

When she was home on leave, Rose was a bit taken aback by the huge bag her husband had begun carrying around.

“You need something to carry all their stuff in,” he snapped at her. “It’s my man bag.”

In other words, back off, honey: I’m in charge here.

That’s a new and potentially game-changing attitude. We’re still getting our heads around the fact that Michelle Rose can command a battalion. Meanwhile, she and her husband have already rewritten the gender-role rule book without breaking a sweat, man bag and all.

For the first time ever, the American work force tipped last year to become majority female. Women are entering and graduating from college, earning advanced degrees and out-earning their husbands at record rates.

The rise of women has worried some men. There was the whole fatherhood movement in the late 1990s, which took nasty turns into anti-woman territory and involved more about legislation and child support and custody than the business of actual parenting.

There have been endless stories about the end of male dominance in the work force, partnered by sad-sack photos and cartoons of washed-up businessmen.

And this year, Kay Hymowitz wrote “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys,” suggesting that today’s Wonder Women have spawned a generation of men stunted in perpetual adolescence.

I’m not so sure. I don’t believe this trend has given us a manworld of loserboys forever playing Guitar Hero and building Star Wars Lego sets in their underpants. Nor do we have a crop of impotent, empty suits.

Not every man wanted to be a Conqueror of the Universe. And just as legions of housewives in the 1950s looked longingly out the windows as men went off to work, legions of men stuck at the office have stared at their cubicles, wishing they could be home with the kids instead but afraid to mention it to anyone.

What this means is that men have more choices now. Real choices. The female makeover has freed men to become parents, not just fathers.

The new dad is caring, committed and conflicted, according to a new Boston College study.

Being a good father used to mean “providing for the family.” In other words, bringing in the bucks, baby. Not anymore. Today, that study showed “providing love and emotional support” and “being involved and present in your child’s life” were way more important than being Daddy Dollarbills.

Men are slowly beginning to speak up in the workplace, demanding flex time and family-friendly schedules.

A Pew study on fatherhood released this week says that fathers living with their children are taking a more active role than ever before in their young ones’ lives, far more involved than anything they saw their own fathers do.

And children always benefit from two all-in parents.

Without my husband’s true involvement, the boys would never know the many ways ground beef can be used, wouldn’t understand the mastery of a Neil Peart drum solo, the idea that moms have late days at the office, too, or the fact that Dad — just like Mom — loves them, but also wishes on some nights that they would just go the [expletive] to sleep.

Petula Dvorak writes for The Washington Post.

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