full fledged fatherhoodRecently there was a Facebook meme showing a picture of a man wearing this T-shirt: “Dads don’t babysit. It’s called parenting.”

I smiled in recognition, as this was the case in my own family. I am the oldest of two children. Our mother was a stay-at-home mom until my sister and I were old enough to be latchkey kids.

We also were a two-income family. During that time, my mom worked from home as an Avon representative, a gate guard at our community swimming pool, columnist for our local newspaper and, at one point, she sewed doll clothes. When my sister and I were in our teens, she worked at Sears as a switchboard operator.

My dad was a milkman and then a bus driver. They retired at 65. All throughout, both took equal responsibility for raising us. There was division of labor in terms of housework and cooking. He ran the vacuum cleaner throughout our ranch-style suburban New Jersey home, “mowing the carpet” as he referred to it. She did the laundry and my sister and I had chores.

Both parents mowed the lawn and did gardening. He cleaned the garage, which meant moving the junk from one side to the other. He maintained the cars. She did the bathtime routine, partly because he went to bed early in order to get up before sunrise.

We always had dinner together and then Jan and I would tuck him in bed. There were bedtime stories; sometimes he read them to us, sometimes we read them to him. Usually there was playtime after dinner.

He taught us to ride our bicycles. He would jump rope with us (he had been a Golden Gloves boxer in the Navy). We would garden together. He taught us to change the oil and tires. He wanted us to be able to take care of ourselves. We would go to the pool and synagogue as a family.

They were equally involved with moral guidance, social conscience, intellectual development and emotional support. My dad was touted as a model for fatherhood, since he was both primary provider of financial support as well as shared nurturing on par with my mother.

Other perceptions of this dynamic were expressed by both men and women when I posted the T-shirt bedecked dad image on my own Facebook page:

I’ve heard many dads say they “babysit” their own kids! This is the problem. They don’t think if their own kids as a responsibility but an inconvenience. I asked one father if he was getting paid to babysit? I think the light bulb finally went on.

Once in a while my chauvinistic son in law will offer to ‘watch the kids’ (four under aged 9!) for my full-time working daughter. Grrrrrr!!!

It’s like the kids aren’t really supposed to be their responsibility too and as if they’re doing their partner a huge favor.

Whenever people ask me how I do what I do (traveling, writing, flight attending), invariably they ask if the kids’ dad babysits. I always answer “no, he dads.”

I was a full-on house husband and brought my daughter and my stepdaughter up when they were very young while my partner worked for several years. I abandoned my career, which involved walking away from a degree course just short of completing it, to commit to our life change, which also involved moving away from my family. I ran the house, as in washing, housework, cooking, bathing and putting children to bed which, alas, resulted in me being emasculated in my partner’s eyes. She eventually started (cheating) and kicked me out.

The point I’m making is that some men are like children themselves and are used to their partners looking after them. When they break away from the family, they genuinely do believe they warrant a medal for looking after their own kids for a few hours at the weekend — which will often involve the help of a new partner who has been selected to fill the void left by their last mommy-I-mean-partner.

I don’t cringe because I respect and revere a woman who is a stay-at-home mother. And I respect parents being free to be able to frame and have humor as they wish to frame it. Maybe he is helping around the house — maybe she’s a stay-at-home mom and that’s how they frame it. Who is anyone else to tell either parent how they should speak/frame? What’s true for a person is up to them.

Why a Father’s Involvement Matters

Paul Raeburn, author of Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked, says, “The discovery of the father is one of the most important developments in the study of children and families.”

According to the American Psychological Association, men have become more active in parenting as women have taken more powerful roles in the workplace. “Research on the role of fathers suggests that the influence of father love on children’s development is as great as the influence of a mother’s love. Fatherly love helps children develop a sense of their place in the world, which helps their social, emotional and cognitive development and functioning. Moreover, children who receive more love from their fathers are less likely to struggle with behavioral or substance abuse problems.”

In a study published by the Father Involvement Initiative, it was determined that involved fathers raised more highly functioning children. These areas included better cognitive competence, improved academic achievement, lower levels of stress, higher tolerance for challenges, as well as more adept social skills. The benefits for men who actively parent include self-confidence, improved relationship with their co-parent, empathy and understanding of others, as well as increased community involvement.

In a publication called The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children, offered by the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a prominent sociologist, Dr. David Popenoe, author of Families Without Fathers: Fathers, Marriage and Children in American Society says, “Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.”

Even if the ‘fathering parent’ is a surrogate, benefit is detectable. Mark’s father died when he was 11 years old and he was raised by his newly widowed 40-year-old mother. Although conventional wisdom states that single parents need to be both mother and father, she knew that she would not be able to take on the father role.

She reached out to male friends to ask if they would be willing to mentor her son and provide the male support that would assist him in growing into a good man. They all had values that mirrored hers, particularly regarding relationships and psycho-social-sexual matters.

They gladly agreed and over the years, they spent time with her son, engaged in activities that helped him develop life skills and modeling prosocial behavior. One in particular took on a central role and was present and available to guide him, as well as provide fun and personally enriching activity. Although this now 29-year-old young man has experienced his share of life challenges, his surrogate father has seen him through them and his mother is grateful that he has been part of the village who helped her raise her child.

Father and son photo available from Shutterstock