There he was, kneeling on the floor, with a baby wipe in his hand, changing his grandchild’s diaper. For a man of his generation, he clearly had an unusual attitude toward caring for young children. Many of us GRR!s started our families in the 1950s and 1960s. Back then, we would often hear men boasting about how few “dirty diapers” they had changed. Fathers taking care of their children by themselves were often called “babysitters.”
But times are different now. Back then, most women stayed home to care for the family. The widespread expectation that caring is women’s work and men’s role as breadwinners only has shifted. The fact that many women are single mothers without a partner’s support doesn’t diminish the importance of the father’s role.
There is no single reason for the change. The economy has evolved from the days when a sole breadwinner could support a family. In January this year, American women held 50.04 percent of jobs. Women entering the workplace means they have less time for the traditional at-home role of a mother.
Men have been encouraged to become more involved. Even during the mother’s prenatal care, men can learn how to give their partners support during labor. From day one with the baby, many dads participate in hands-on care.
Research shows that fathers can have a significant influence on their daughters. A father is the first male figure a girl will know. Often, her relationship with him is the lens through which she sees all relationships with men. She grows in self-confidence as he guides her in risk-taking and environmental exploration in early childhood. Direct involvement, even during the turbulent adolescent years, can help diminish a girl’s insecurity and increase her confidence in her abilities.
Many forces have come together to create this shift in attitude about the father’s role. But there still is a long way to go for gender equity. We need more employers to support family-friendly policies. Government legislation can make it more possible to combine work and family in ways that are beneficial to the growth and development of children. Government policies and regulations, that value unpaid care work as much as paid work, will benefit both women and men’s ability to support their families. Fathers can take pride in their role to make society a more equitable environment for their daughters.
Father’s Day and every day of the year is a time to value the importance of the father-daughter relationship.