A line for the restroom is never a welcome sight. 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 with his newly soiled, newborn son. Both seemed relatively happy and generally competent.
This strangely peaceful, even if noxious, scene made me think of when my kids were in diapers. It was a fleeting thought.
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What was lasting, however, was the impression that this line represented 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 caregivers are at record high numbers in the U.S. and increasing in visibility and acceptance internationally.
More evidence can be seen in the behaviors and attitudes of millions of dads. These days, men are more engaged in child care decisions, teacher meetings, active play, bedtime routines and countless more parenting roles.
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.
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 important, men and their children.
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 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 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.
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. 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. That’s a challenging shift for men who grew up with the expectation of being the breadwinner.
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.
Aaron B. Rochlen is a professor and training director of the counseling psychology program at the University of Texas at Austin.