The Daddy Shift

 

 

Then one momentous day, I sat down in a rocking chair and he stayed asleep. I took a book down from the bookshelf. It was the best book I'd ever read; I don't remember its name. One afternoon as the room darkened, his eyes snapped open and they met mine. He smiled and said, "Dada," and his small fingers curled around my forefinger.

He was glad to see me there with him. And I was glad to be there.

It's strange to think that such an intensely private moment might be the product of a tectonic shift in society and the economy.

Although I felt acutely isolated when I was learning to take care of my son, in fact I was not alone. Since 1965, the number of hours that men spend on child care has tripled. Since 1995, it has nearly doubled.

In 2007, the Census Bureau counted 159,000 stay-at-home dads in the United States, up from 64,000 in 1995. But these numbers tell only part of the story of male caregiving, because they exclude stay-at-home fathers who also work. When we add fathers who work part-time or from home, and who are primarily or equally responsible for taking care of kids, the number of male caregivers increases. According to a 2008 census report, for example, one in four preschool children spend more time in dad's care than any other arrangement while the mother is working, though most of the fathers work at least part-time and probably do not call themselves "stay-at-home dads."

Many studies find that 21st century couples divide paid work, household labor, and child care far more equitably than couples in the past. Some professional dual-income couples have even achieved rough equality in their domestic divisions of labor, and one-third of working-class couples work different, complementary shifts and share care of young children. A great deal of evidence also indicates that more fathers would adopt caregiving roles if they felt it was financially feasible to do so: For example, a 2007 survey by Monster.com found that 68 percent of American men would consider staying home full-time with their kids.

 

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