The bottom line is clear: During the past decade, the number of caregiving fathers has risen dramatically. Dads now spend more time with their children than at any time since researchers started collecting longitudinally comparable data. This does not mean that Americans have achieved an egalitarian utopia. The census counts 5.6 million stay-at-home moms, compared to 159,000 dads. The University of Wisconsin's National Survey of Families and Households says that the average mother is doing five times as much child care as the average father. When both parents work for pay, mom still beats dad by a four to one ratio. If men as a group have indeed increased their contributions at home--and they have --they still don't come close to matching what mothers do.
However, averages can be deceptive. They reveal the big picture, but by doing so, obscure the many smaller pieces and countertrends that give it shape. In truth, we are in a period of transition when inequality coexists with progress. Some groups of men have adopted flexible gender roles and embraced cooking, cleaning, and taking care of kids, while other groups have not. The negative examples, often glorified, are everywhere, while the positive ones are often hidden and hard to find, especially for boys and young men.
It is time for 21st century dads to go on the offensive. Stay-at-home dads represent a logical next step of 50 years of family change, from a time when the idea of men caring for children was inconceivable, to a new era when at-home dads are a small but growing part of the landscape. This is the "daddy shift": the gradual movement away from a definition of fatherhood as pure breadwinning to one that encompasses capacities for both breadwinning and caregiving.