“I have more pictures of my children than my father ever looked at me.”
– Jim Gaffigan
I do the grocery shopping in my house.
Most of the time, I take the kid with me – it’s one of our things. Almost without fail, an older woman (it’s always an older woman) will comment on how cute my daughter is and then make some comment about why Dad is the one doing the shopping.
“Is Mom sick?” they ask.
My kid will look befuddled. Mama wasn’t sick when we left the house. Nor was she sick last week when we did this. Nor the week before.
“No,” I say politely with a smile. “I do the grocery shopping,” I explain.
Generally, this is the end of it. There have been times, however, in which it has continued.
“Oh,” they’ll reply with a chuckle, “so she tells you what to buy.” They will then look down and ask, “Where’s your list?”
I’ll try to explain that (a) we share a list through an app on our phone; (b) we share kitchen duties so we both add items to the list when we notice something is low or missing, and, most shocking of all, (c) I actually know how to cook! Like, a full meal and everything! And, often, the kid is right by my side helping to prepare it.
Their face will then contort into a mixture of surprise and fascination with a bit of disappointment thrown in. It’s quite the look.
Then, I’ll continue on my way with my child basically attached to me. Just like every other day.
I’m not judging. All of us carry around what we were taught and what we absorbed from the generation in which we came of age. Their generation was one in which duties were divided by gender lines – I understand because it’s similar to the one in which I was raised. My father was Don Draper, minus the drinking and womanizing. Okay, he wasn’t Don Draper, but he did commute ninety minutes each way into the city every day so that we could have a large, spacious house surrounded by plenty of land. My mother stayed home, at least while we were small, and was the ultimate domestic goddess. On weekends, my father did all of the outdoor work – four acres is a lot of upkeep – while my mother cleaned inside.
I’m generalizing, of course, but no one can deny the balance of parental duties have been shifting over the past few decades. By and large, the era of the father who goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and plays with the kids for ten minutes before going off to do whatever he wants is over. We’re more than Chris Rock’s “Thanks for knocking out this rent!,” particularly since so many mothers help pay the rent too. My father has told me that I’m far more involved than he was (and he was very involved for the time) and while the number of friends that I have has dwindled over time, most of the few remaining are also fathers and all of them, without fail, are present as much as possible. Frankly, some of their own fathers don’t understand, derisively sneering that their sons are doing the “woman’s’ work” while failing to acknowledge that the wife/mother also works full-time and ignoring the drastic changes in the socioeconomic structure of America that often dictates a two-income home.
It’s not just anecdotal. A report by the CDC found that (not surprisingly) more involvement led to better results:
“Fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives has been shown to have a positive effect on children and their well-being in many areas —for example, on increasing the chances of academic success and in reducing the chances of delinquency and substance abuse. A literature review found that children whose fathers assumed 40% or more of the family’s care tasks had better academic achievement than children whose fathers were less involved.”
Of course, these could be correlation and not causation, but another study through Pew Research confirms the changes in parenting over the past half-century:
“Dads are much more involved in child care than they were 50 years ago. In 2015, fathers reported spending, on average, seven hours a week on child care – almost triple the time they provided back in 1965. And fathers put in about nine hours a week on household chores in 2015, up from four hours in 1965. By comparison, mothers spent an average of about 15 hours a week on child care and 18 hours a week on housework in 2015. While fathers are spending more time with their children, many feel they’re still not doing enough. Roughly half (48%) say they spend too little time with their kids. Only 25% of mothers say the same. Dads are also less positive about their own parenting than are moms. Just 39% of fathers say that they are doing a “very good job” raising their children, compared with 51% of mothers.”
Still, it’s not like we do it all. At best, we do about half.
In my house, when one cooks, the other does the dishes, which means that the one that cooked has bath and bedtime duty. Other households have a different division of labor, but in a growing number of modern families, the slack is picked up on both ends.
While the kid may often prefer me for fun, when she’s sick or scared, she only wants her mama. The mother is often still the primary parent by virtue of biology, but us dads have made some great strides recently.
So the next time you see a father with his children and no mother in sight, don’t be surprised. What was once the exception has quickly become the norm.
Christopher Pierznik’s nine books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.