This Father's Day, families will honor and celebrate all kinds of dads.
They will salute dads who work long hours in high-profile jobs and dads whose primary job is raising the kids; dads who coach their children's soccer teams, sometimes still in their ties and shiny shoes, and dads who don't mind cleaning the bathroom; dads who make eggs on Saturday mornings or are good at fixing things or never seem to get tired of playing games; dads who braid their daughters' hair.
These are just a few of the dads I know. In today's world, the list of dad skills, attributes and responsibilities is as varied as the ever-changing role of the American father.
Much has been made of the differences between men and women, and I find the Venus-Mars theory particularly interesting as it relates to parenting. How much of our gender and parenting roles are learned, from what our families and culture and society teach us and expect of us, and how much of this is influenced by our genes? Are women, on average, inherently better at comforting and nurturing? Are more men than women hard-wired to be good problem-solvers and fixers?
Researchers at the University of California-Davis may find the answers as they look for insights into the biology of human behavior by studying monkey families.
In a research colony of titi monkeys, a South American species known for being monogamous, the males are more nurturing than the females. The fathers carry the baby monkeys around and comfort them when they cry. The mothers reject their babies, except at feeding time.
In American families, meanwhile, the roles of moms and dads continue to evolve. It's hard to say what is "typical" or "traditional" anymore. The notion of men as the breadwinners and women as the nurturers still exists, and for some families, those roles are a good fit. For others, the roles are reversed _ or taken apart and pieced back together in new job descriptions that defy gender stereotypes.
In a growing number of families, women earn more than men. According to the Census Bureau, 25.3 percent of women in two-income marriages bring home the bigger paycheck, up from 17.8 percent in 1987. On average, men still earn more than women, but the pay gap is shrinking: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earned 81 cents for every dollar a man made in 2005, up from 66.6 cents in 1983.
Parenting roles are more mixed than ever. Today's dads are doing things their fathers may not have done: changing diapers, leaving work to take the kids to dance lessons, accompanying preschoolers to birthday parties. With more women working as doctors and lawyers and executives, dads are doing some of the juggling once reserved for supermoms: the day-care and school pickups and drop-offs, the errands, the cooking, the chores.
Parents today have the opportunity to be truly equal partners in the difficult and rewarding job of raising children. They have the freedom and flexibility to do what they enjoy and what they're good at, even if it's different from what their parents enjoyed or were good at.
Of course, this freedom also creates new challenges. It's more difficult to negotiate who will do what when every job is up for grabs. It's harder to balance the child care and household workloads when both parents also have other full-time jobs. And how do you divvy up the responsibilities when neither parent is good at balancing the checkbook and both parents hate cleaning the tub?
These are challenges each family will address, in whatever way works best for them. The role-swapping and job-sharing will increase as more women break through the so-called "glass ceiling" and society becomes even more accepting of men as caregivers.
And who knows? Someday, those monkey researchers may find out that our X and Y chromosomes are, indeed, responsible for some of our strengths and weaknesses.
If that's the case, let's hope they'll also discover antidotes for shopaholic wives and husbands who leave their dirty laundry on the floor.
Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at email@example.com.
This Father's Day, families will honor and celebrate all kinds of dads.
- Big Chuck D'Imperio
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