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Dads see value of sharing in household, child-care responsibilities

April 16, 1998|By JoEllen Barnhart

A new type of dad is being bred. He's not just a bread winner. He also is a bread maker, and proud of it.

Whether or not it's a result of working mothers or the desire to connect with their families, young fathers appear to be more involved in the daily, hands-on care taking of their children than in prior generations.

"Does anyone have some spare Desitin? I can't find mine" asked my nephew, Todd, in desperation last week. He wasn't shy about it either. Before a family gathering of about 20, Todd pronounced his diaper changing dilemma with an unflappable, mother-like tone. He needed diaper rash protection for his baby daughter.

Guess who came to the rescue. My other nephew, Jason. A new father himself, Jason knows not to leave home without Desitin. Jason not only knows the perils of being unprepared for that nasty little rash - he took steps to avoid it. It's great to see these young men do more with a diaper bag than just carry it.

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And please take note: many restaurants have finally joined the '90s dads, placing diaper changing tables in the men's room. Ergo, potty parity has reached a new high point. How do I know? My husband gives me a men's facility report for each public restroom we use. And since we have three boys, he has surveyed thousands of men's rooms.

For generations fathers have been protective and supportive. Now dads are adding new entries to their fatherhood resumes. A new element to the "hands-on" job includes food preparation. At my house, I have to double-check the menu selections. Sometimes, my husband still considers potato chips a vegetable and Cheese Nips a dairy product.

One of my students recently announced, "My boyfriend is in touch with his feminine side." "What does that mean?" I asked. She said, "It means, he is secure in showing his feelings for me and my children. He even enjoys nurturing and is quite good at it."

That's good news. He has come over from the dark side. The family can continue to find even greater happiness now that he has the Force with him.

I have a friend in Florida, who described to me her nontraditional family roles. Mom heads off to work each morning, while Dad stays at home to take care of the kids. Great, I thought; they are joining a growing population of families that have found role reversal a viable solution. She continued to remark that when their son and daughter played outside, the game of "house" had a slightly different drama going than the rest of the kids in the neighborhood.

Men are discovering not just new tasks, but new joy as they stretch the envelope of doing more as a father. Like mothers, fathers too, get to experience the wooziness of sleep deprivation. Staying up all night with a sick child then working the next day creates a mindless sensation that no drug could possibly match.

I know many dads that are opting for a new set of priorities, such as being the child-care provider over corporate-meeting presider and peewee soccer coaching instead of golf course networking.

Our world is expanding and changing more rapidly than we could ever dream possible. There is plenty of room for both parents to get in the thick of things. Kids love the extra attention. Educators appreciate it when both parents make time for school meetings. And the entire family grows stronger when the load is shared.

Still, even the strongest, most able, most nurturing, most willing of men cannot yet give birth. I guess some things always will be women's work.

Jo Ellen Barnhart is the working mother of three young boys. She teaches at Frostburg State University and Hagerstown Junior College and consults in public relations and marketing. Write to her in care of The Herald Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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