Liberty for dads

In light of all the talk regarding extending fathers' leave, I would like to propose Liberty for Dads.

In recent years, America has re-invented fatherhood. Unfortunately, our workplace has not caught up to these changes.

There were 3,894,000 births in the United States last year, and as opposed to decades past, fathers attended the majority of these births. It used to be a baby came into the world while a father paced in the waiting room. Now he's there with his wife, often the first to hold the baby. But that's just the beginning. Bringing up baby is no longer women's work. Dads are there for the nitty-gritty: diapers, calming the baby at 3 a.m., and all the rest. These days, a dad is a juggler - which often leads to vexing questions of how he can allocate time between work and home life.

Here's an example.

This past tax day, April l5th, I was in a foul mood. It wasn't the tax payments that bothered me. Or the long postal line of grumbling New Yorkers breathing down one another's necks. It was that my five-year-old son was going on a school field trip to the Statue of Liberty ... and I wasn't going to be there with him.

My wife and I had discussed it (rather heatedly) at breakfast.

"This is your last chance to take your 5-year-old son on a school trip," she said. "Don't let it pass."

"I've got a ton of stuff to do," I countered.

"Well, I do too! So what? You can catch up later," she said, packing our son's lunch box.

I wanted to say (but didn't), "Fathers can't get away with this sort of thing. They can't just take off a day every time there's a school trip - even if they'd like to."

But the longer I stood in that post office line, rocking on my rollerblades, the more sure I became that I was making a mistake. Forget Return Receipt Requested! I bought some stamps from the vending machine, stuffed the envelopes into a mail slot, bolted out the door, and rollerbladed toward my kid's school. I got there, panting.

"Where are the buses?"

"You just missed them," the guard said. I bladed to the nearest avenue. There, six or eight blocks down, I spotted a blip of yellow buses. I huffed and puffed and pumped my arms and caught up with them at a traffic light. I found the bus my child's class was on and pounded wildly on the door until the driver, alarmed, opened up. As I scooted down the aisle, there were high-fives from the kids, applause from the moms, and thumbs up from the teachers.

I settled in and realized I was the only dad. But when the bus arrived at Battery Park, I was in for a surprise: Eight other fathers had found the time, too. Here was a scene unimaginable 20 years ago. These new-style dads were pacing in their dark suits, cell phones to ears, but the instant they saw their children, they shifted into father mode.

One dad, a financial adviser whose office is in the World Trade Center, told me, "All morning the thought that I really wanted to come along kept gnawing at me. When my 8:30 meeting got canceled, I realized that if I postponed my 10:30 conference call with the London office, I could take my kid to the statue. So here I am."

We dads felt pretty special as we got in line for the ferry. Sure, we know that moms do this sort of thing all the time. But it felt nice to be part of a new kind of fatherhood, one that comes with a built-in desire to try to balance work with being there for our kids. We felt like mavericks. We know we're breaking the fatherhood mold that was handed down to us. We're shaping it to our needs, our desires, our dreams.

The real change is already beginning: When fathers like us become directors of departments at work, we hire guys who won't raise an eyebrow when we attend our kid's school plays - or zip off to the Statue of Liberty on a field trip.

As I was about to board the boat, a guard said sternly, "No rollerblades on Liberty Island." I hastily took off my blades and marched on in my white socks. All of us - the dads, the moms and the kids - burst into laughter.

"Next time I'll bring shoes," I said with a shrug. It's that way when you're hammering out the fine details of something new.

* James Douglas Barron, the father of two children, is a writer in New York City. His most recent book is 'She's Had a Baby - And I'm Having a Meltdown' (William Morrow).

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