Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Daddy Shift

I saw him at the Bangor Mall. He was about the size of a
football linebacker...gangsta clothes, tats and piercings, and draped
across his chest...a sling with his three-week-old daughter slumbering
contentedly. "She's my girl," he said, "She's my world."
When I was a kid child raising was women's work. As my
generation matured the more granola type guys took on some of the
duties and joys of parenting. Now it seems this more involved
fathering has gone mainstream and beyond. How special for those sons
and daughters who are their fathers' worlds!
Jeremy Adam Smith, author of The Daddy Shift: How Stay-At-Dads,
Bread Winning Moms, And Shared Parenting Are Transforming The American
Family, is one of those fathers. The birth of his son changed his
life, especially a year later when he became the stay-at-home dad of a
toddler. At first his days were filled with anxiety and isolation.
Gradually he settled into his new role. Fortunately for us, he
decided to write the kind of book he wishes someone had given him when
he set out into this unknown territory.
The best thing about The Daddy Shift is its readibility. You
can see from his notes that Smith did his research. He also
interviewed parents from a wide variety of racial and class
backgrounds. Vivid portrayals of these encounters and the subjects
segue seamlessly with lucid analysis of themes and trends to make a
narrative that is hard to put down.
Smith believes that pioneering couples with mothers capable of
supporting households and fathers not narrowly defined by their
ability to bring home the bacon are a logical step in the evolution of
the family. Patriarchy was woven into the fiber of the industrialized
society. The prosperity following World War II made the suburban, one
earner, Leave It To Beaver family a reality for many people. The
switch to postindustrialism, however, was hard on men. As
manufacturing jobs went overseas many became eclipsed in earning power
by their own wives. In many of today's families the wife is the
logical choice for wage earner.
Smith debunks a number of myths that persist in today's
society. A lot of them revolve around the idea that men who don't
take outside jobs are lazy, inatentive, bumbling Mr. Moms or simply
biologically incapable of primary caregiving. The fathers he portrays
are competent, resourceful, and deeply involved with their young
charges. And evidence that male hormone levels and brain structures
change with the onset of parenthood is cited.
Other myths revolve around economics. Stay-at-home parenting
for either gender is a luxury for the rich. (Actually the cost of
child care is so high you have to earn enough to enable both parents
to work. Low income families are more likely to have a stay-at-home
parent.). The decision is always purely economic. (Many parents will
opt for a lower material standard of living to avoid putting kids in
day care.) Men would not take advantage of parental leave if it was
available. (In places where it's a viable option they do.)
Although he rejects more conventional utopias, Smith has visions
of a future where parenting roles will be dictated by family
circumstances, not gender role expectations. Parental leave and
flextime will be accessible and gender neutral. The welfare of our
children will be a national priority. Kids will be able to develop
deep and abiding attachments to both parents.
Smith asks if this a world we want to live in. He reminds us
that it won't come without work and commitment. Reading his book is a
good place to start.
On a more personal note: I'm looking forward to my kids' Christmas
vacations. The tree is up and ready to decorate. I'm baking cookies
and watching Christmas specials with the family.
A big shout out goes out to all the dads today who are deeply involved
in their children's lives.

Sent from my iPod

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