What does the #CheerioChallenge say about today's dads?

The Cheerio Challenge is a social media competition that pits dads and cereal against gravity, coming at a time when fathers are spending more time with their children than in recent decades.
Dad blogger Patrick Quinn, who writes Life of Dad, inadvertently started the Cheerio Challenge when he posted photos of Cheerios stacked on the nose of his sleeping child.

When issued a challenge to stack Cheerios on a sleeping child's face, how many dads will respond with a post on social media?

A recent social media phenomenon suggests the number is tough to peg. Fathers from around the country and the globe have answered a challenge issued by one dad to stack cereal on the forehead or nose of their snoozing progeny. 

"I wish we'd known it would take off like this. I'd have tied it to [a good cause]," Cheerio instigator and dad blogger Patrick Quinn told CNN. "It's straight up stacking Cheerios on kids' faces."

Mr. Quinn, who manages the social accounts for the Life of Dad parenting site, was afraid to move and wake his napping, three-week-old son, so he began placing Cheerios on the sleeping infant's nose. He took a photo of his tallest stack and posted it to Life of Dad with a challenge to dads everywhere. It became a viral celebration of paternal creativity just in time for Father's Day. 

"I'd take a picture but then I'd start laughing and it'd topple over," Quinn told CNN. "So I'd start again, take a picture and it'd topple over. The highest I got to is five."

The timing coincided with not only Father's Day, but also a broader societal shift in parenting that results in more dad-time for the nation's children. America's fathers have doubled the hours per week they spend on housework since 1965, and almost tripled fatherly time with kids, according to Pew Research Center.  

The most dramatic symptom of the shift lies in the number of fathers not employed outside the home, which has nearly doubled since 1989. This number reached its all-time high in 2010 because so many men's positions were cut in the Great Recession, but 21 percent of these fathers still say they stay home for family reasons, rather than unemployment or disability. 

"High unemployment rates around the time of the Great Recession contributed to the recent increases, but the biggest contributor to long-term growth in these 'stay-at-home fathers' is the rising number of fathers who are at home primarily to care for their family," Gretchen Livingston wrote for Pew. 

This has not been a thrill for every mom, and not only because cereal is finding its way into the couch cushions. Some mothers feel that society's push for more paternity leave – championed by Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg and others – is laudable, but distracts from their own challenges to secure more flexible work schedules. Three-quarters of America's mothers and half its fathers reported cutting back, switching, or quitting jobs to make their children a priority, according to a Washington Post poll. 

Mothers are much more likely to say parenting requires sacrifices in career advancement, with 41 percent of mothers saying parenting makes their job harder, compared to 20 percent of fathers, according to Pew. 

The United States has no government-guaranteed provision for family leave, but politicians have expressed the need for family balance in various ways. One of the five conditions for becoming speaker of the House that Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin laid down before taking the job was time off for his family on the weekends.

"This is a job where you are expected to be on the road about a hundred days a year," Mr. Ryan said during one of his first speeches after he accepted the nomination as speaker. "Our kids are 10, 12 and 13, and I'm not going to do that."

Men are increasingly pushing the cause of highly involved fatherhood into the spotlight, often by more dramatic methods than cereal-stacking. Tech companies have been offering more and more generous packages for time off when babies are born, with Mr. Zuckerberg announcing a noteworthy two-month break when his daughter was born. 

The Facebook chief has not yet posted any photos of Cheerio pyramids on his daughter's nose, but as time goes on, the tech entrepreneur may still make his mark on the fatherly fad. 

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