Tom Stocky, a Facebook executive, reflected on paternity leave and gender inequality in child-rearing in an essay on Facebook. More than 7,000 people have liked it. It seems that many more will like it before it runs its course – the essay raises a number of great points about work-life balance, the parent-child bond, and the relationship between work and family, popping the top off of an awful big can of philosophical worms in the process.
Reading his essay, it struck me that he'd posted it somewhere else, in an edited form, and I was half right: there's also a recent Slate essay entitled "I’m Not a Hero for Taking Care of My Kids." It's by a different author who nails many of the same points – all of which resonated for me, incidentally, as a freelancer dad who splits childcare with his self-employed wife. In short: dads taking care of kids is ordinary, not heroic, and it's important, and needs to be supported as a new status quo.
Although the publication date of these essays is coincidental, it's no surprise that the sentiment is being expressed right now. Questions about family structure, the male role in child-rearing, and workers' rights are all hot right now.
People are starting to ask whether it makes sense for the United States to be part of the Lesotho-Papua New Guinea-Swaziland Axis of No Mandated Paid Maternity Leave and to what extent paid paternity leave should enter the discussion, too. America's pro-capitalism (and "capitalism") bias has resulted in a culture of work where it's considered fortunate if we manage a couple weeks of paid leave each year, and support for childcare is a gift, not a right.
And people are starting to ask whether it makes sense that society's expectations label a mom delinquent if she works full-time, or label a guy admirable for actively taking care of his kids.
Before having my son, I'd regard this whole discussion as overly abstract and/or implausible. But in the three short months since having Josiah, I've met a number of people who regard my contributions to my son's care as somehow wonderful or unusual. I've also encountered the flip side while hanging out with older men at family gatherings, where childcare (particularly infant care) is seen as the sole province of women. More than one older guy has told me, proudly, that they never changed a single diaper.
Speaking personally, I like changing diapers. Let me restate that: I take satisfaction in changing diapers. Since breastfeeding isn't an option, it's an aspect of childcare where my own limited talents can contribute, if not actually shine. I like the post-diaper smiles. And I like taking my son on walks, and being around to catch all those silly-but-significant little developmental milestones. But most of all, I like knowing that I'm participating actively in raising him – we've been having dude time together since he was born, something that I hope continues for the rest of my life.
I don't feel oppressed by contributing to my son's care, I feel blessed. Except when there's a diaper blowout. Then I don't feel blessed.