A line for the restroom is never a welcome sight. And it’s definitely not a source of laughter or the impetus for an op-ed. Yet on this Father’s Day, I may have uncovered an exception.
Upon entering a public men’s room recently, I witnessed a line I never would have expected — at a changing table.
But there it was, in all its gender-role deviating glory. One guy had his daughter pinned to the table, attending to her business. Another waited (somewhat) patiently with his newly soiled, newborn son. Both seemed relatively happy and generally competent.
This strangely peaceful, yet noxious scene made me think of when my kids were in diapers. It was a fleeting thought.
What was lasting, however, was the impression that this line was a perfect representation of something I’ve increasingly seen as a researcher studying men and masculinity: Fathering and, by extension, men’s restrooms have evolved.
Some of this change can be supported by data. Stay-at-home fathers and other male primary care givers are at record high numbers in the U.S. and increasing in visibility and acceptance internationally.
Yet this is only part of the story.
More evidence can be seen in the behaviors and attitudes of millions of other dads. These days, men are more engaged in child care decisions, teacher meetings, active play, bedtime routines and countless more parenting roles. More generally, men today are experiencing the joys and challenges that come with having kids in ways their own fathers could not.
And here’s the kicker: They are talking about it — in different ways via various outlets. The discussion is happening online, as evidenced by thousands of blogs, forums, tweets and websites. But it’s also happening in “real life,” with more face-to-face discussions among men and, most importantly, men and their children.
And it’s not just talk about home runs and goals scored.
Just last week I was talking with two friends who are high-level Austin executives. The conversation started with business, moved to soccer and morphed into a discussion of the sadness both were feeling from “letting go” of their kids, soon headed off to college.
Watching an NBA finals game, another friend got deeply emotional (between commercials) sharing his experience of the birth of his son. This was the first time he had been out of the house in months. Why? He “didn’t want to miss a moment” of the newfound love of his life.
This is not Ward Cleaver-speak. It’s the new fatherhood. It’s imperfect but authentic and caring. And it’s definitely having a positive effect on families.
Of course, the evolution of fatherhood is far from complete.
As things evolve, they often become more complicated and conflicted. Fatherhood is no exception. Men are reporting record levels of work-family conflict, something working women have struggled with for years.
As Soccer Moms have joined Soccer Dads on the sidelines, “daddy guilt” has joined “mommy guilt” in the consciences of working parents. The tension between wanting to “do more” at home and the increasing demands of work is alive and stressful.
Another tension is about money. Many men are making less cash. The well-documented “he-session” has affected men via increasing layoffs, decreased salaries and under-employment.
And the percentage of women out-earning their male partners continues to increase. Good news for gender income equity? Certainly. A challenging shift for men who grew up with the expectation of being the breadwinner? Absolutely.
We must acknowledge all the men who are enacting, discussing and embracing these shifting roles: the good, the stressful and those yet to be determined. Fatherhood has always been important — it’s just looking different these days.
So this Father’s Day, thank your dad for all the “changes” he has helped make in your life. Then ask for a hug. Just make sure he washed his hands first.
Aaron B. Rochlen is a professor and training director of the Counseling Psychology program at The University of Texas at Austin. His research has focused on men and masculinity, including depression and fathering.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Treasure Coast Palm, Amarillo Globe News, Houston Chronicle, Fort Worth Star Telegram, San Angelo Standard Times, Corpus Christi Caller Times and the Austin American Statesman.
To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.
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