Since we just celebrated Father’s Day, I thought I would share some insights and observations about dads (and moms) and some things I have learned since joining the dad club some 33 years ago.
Roles and perceptions of fathers have changed during my lifetime.
My father did not finish college, and started his work life on his family farm. He eventually became an insurance claims adjuster, first for an insurance company and then on his own. Like most men of his generation, he was the breadwinner for the family.
And with that role it was assumed he was head of the family. There was never any doubt he loved and cherished my mother (and she him), and they rarely had a cross word, but when I think back on life with him as I was growing up, he was very much the decision maker and my mother abided by those decisions.
To be fair, maybe there was more collaboration that took place when I was not around. My perception, however, always was that he ran the show, so to speak. And looking back, I’m confident my perception was correct.
On the domestic front, he was pretty helpless. I’m pretty sure he never changed a diaper. Until my mother was diagnosed with cancer when she and my dad had been married nearly 50 years, from which she would not recover, he had never operated a washer or dryer. She taught him shortly after her diagnosis.
In what I have just described, I don’t think my father was unique among other dads of his era. For the vast majority of our friends and neighbors, although some of the moms might have had part-time jobs (including my mother, who worked at my dad’s office a few hours each week) and some might have been teachers, secretaries or nurses, the family dynamic was similar to mine: Dad worked full time while Mom stayed home and took care of the children and performed most domestic chores.
But this typical model would eventually change. When we started our family, many mothers were joining fathers in the workforce. My wife, who grew up in a traditional family similar to mine, was working as an accountant for a utility company when she had our first child.
She went back to work six weeks after he was born. She quit about a year later and did not work for a few years, but for most of the time we were raising our three children and later when they had left home, she worked in some capacity, right up until her retirement a couple of months ago.
Consequently, our family functioned a little different from the ones she and I grew up in. She was clearly the better cook, so that almost always fell to her (although I could come through in a pinch), but there was never any assumption she would be the one who would exclusively do the laundry or run the vacuum cleaner.
And when decisions were to be made, they were made jointly. Sometimes she might have deferred to me, but often I would defer to her. This was deliberate on my part because many times I had witnessed
my mother giving in to something with which she did not agree, and I think she repressed many of her opinions just to keep peace. I never wanted to operate that way.
Today the former traditional family model with a working dad and stay-at-home mom is the exception, and in most of the young families with whom I’m acquainted, both parents work. Generous maternity and even paternity leave policies allow them to be home in those crucial early months, but many if not most mothers are back at work during the first year after the child is born.
With that being so much the norm, employers are more accommodating than they were when we were having our children. In addition to the aforementioned leave polices, more companies have options for remote working and flexible hours.
Parenting experts have different views on all of this (surprise, surprise). There are some who think this all represents progress and some who think children were better off when Dad worked and Mom was the homemaker.
But as it with anything, there are always opinions. Everybody has them. I’m sure there are statistics to support either side.
I don’t think it makes a lot of difference if either parent stays home (many dads do so these days) or both work. Best I can tell, today’s young parents are doing their best, just as we did. It might not look the same as it did for us, just as the way we managed a family didn’t look the same way our folks did.
I think a mother and a father each bring a unique set of skills and abilities to the family. For every time my wife said, “Let’s see what Dad thinks” to one of ours, I said “Let’s see what Mom thinks,” and it wasn’t for the purpose of handing them off (most of the time, anyway). It was because we were in it together and respected the perspective of the other.
As it with anything, a big part of being a dad is showing up and caring. My dad showed up and cared, and even though he had quirks too numerous to list, I think he did his best. I have always tried to do the same.
Now I’m watching my son and son-in-law try their hands at this dad business. They’re showing up and caring, and I’m immensely proud of them.
They don’t understand this now, but before they know it, their sons will be dads too. And that will likely look different than it does for them.
But the showing up and caring will always be a big part of it.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.