From fathers to 'fatherhood'

Starting this Father’s Day, let’s celebrate men and women able to perform as both a father and a mother. A 'Fatherhood Day,' perhaps?

Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
A mother with her baby chats with a father and his baby in a square in central Stockholm, Sweden. Sweden has generous maternity leave for parents. Fathers are expected to take time to bond with their children.

With so many news stories about people trying to reinvent their identities, it is a wonder Americans look forward to celebrating a time-honored and stable identity this Sunday: fathers. 

Yet even that progenitor title is shifting. A rise in the number of working moms and single dads has pushed more fathers to fulfill the duties traditionally performed by mothers, just as more mothers have had to learn to act like a father.

Parent-bending is becoming the norm. In 1965, fathers in the United States spent an average 2.5 hours a week on child-care duties to a mother’s 10 hours. By 2011, according to the Pew Research Center, fathers spent 10 hours to a mother’s 14 hours. The shift has been similar in hours spent on housework.

Who in Hollywood today would satirize this trend with a mocking movie title like “Mr. Mom”? And why does a TV show like “My Three Sons” now seem so dated?

Father’s Day is still distinctly celebrated from Mother’s Day. But maybe not for long. For more than half a century, the once-separate roles of parenting – from diaper changing to breadwinning – have been steadily shared or switched as more women seek equality in marriages and the workplace. As child-rearing responsibilities get divvied up, a “Parents’ Day” could soon be official.

Or, Father’s Day could become “Fatherhood Day,” a celebration of the qualities often associated with men but able to be expressed by women. And a “Motherhood Day” would become a fete of care-giving and nurturing.

Many companies and governments have enabled this shift by creating flextime, parental leave, and day-care support. Many “modern” dads now join parental support groups. One study of parent-friendly policies in wealthy nations finds fathers who take time off when their child is born are more likely to take care of their kids in later years. Another study in Norway found daughters do better in life when their dads are home more often.

As parenting has become more unisex, no man who stays home with his children should be denigrated for mothering. They should be celebrated for taking on new roles, and not just one day a year.

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