The Wall Street Jounral‘s Japan Realtime blog ran a story earlier this week about a 45 year-old politician who is refusing to let his job come before his family. At least for a few weeks, that is. Hiroshima governor Hidehiko Yuzaki announced on Tuesday that he’ll be taking a paternity leave later this month when he and his wife are expecting their third child. He intends to assist with the couple’s two older children as well as tend to household chores to help his family during the transition.
For those of you hopeful that this move signifies a long-overdue shift in Japanese culture — the one which demands that women stay at home and raise babies while men myopically focus on their bread-winning careers — it’s probably not time to plan any gender egalitarianism celebrations just yet. Japan still only ranks 94th out of 134 nations according to the World Economic Forum’s annual global gender survey, well behind the vast majority of the developed world.
Though more Japanese women have joined the workforce in recent years, very few of them are able to forge legitimate careers, as most are forced out of their jobs and back to the home thanks to a dearth of affordable daycare and housecleaning services. Simply put, the Japanese culture has yet to foster the environment needed to help these ladies succeed. And the notion of men staying home full time to raise children while women bring home the bacon is simply unheard of. Accordingly, Japan’s workforce remains much the same as it has always been — predominantly male.
Such is obviously not the case in the United States, where women have made tremendous strides outside the home over the past 50 years. Luckily, our society has adapted to allow for career-minded ladies to more easily climb the corporate ladder. No dearth of daycare of housecleaning services here.
But even if such services weren’t so readily available, I dare say women would still be enjoying a similar brand of success. Why? Because it’s not just our society which has adapted. Our men have as well. June Cleaver may have left us, but so, too, has the era in which she lived, when Ward would come home and slip on his smoking jacket before reading the paper in a comfy chair while enjoying his pipe as he quietly waited for dinner to be served.
Japan should serve as a reminder of just how far our nation’s fathers have come, many even choosing to stay at home with the kids full time. In some cases, the economy may have forced their hands, but in others, it has simply made more economic sense for the moms to bring home the bacon while the dads mix the formula.
The statistics back it up. The U.S. Census estimated 140,000 men were primary care givers in 2008. They also found that of the nation’s 11.3 million preschoolers with working mothers, 25% (2.9 million) are cared for regularly by the father during their mother’s working hours. Reuters reported in July 2009 that 1 million families had a working wife, a child under 18 years old and an unemployed father.
Not surprisingly, this new breed of dad is more emotionally available than previous models. Many are online sharing their stories with other parents via regular posts made on their own personal blogs. And in some cases, like Ron Mattocks‘s (whose press release provided the statistics in the paragraph above), they are writing books which detail their experiences. Whether dads are staying at home full time, or simply taking on a much larger share of the parental responsibilities than their predecessors, what we are witnessing is more than just a recession-aided trend. The men who take on such roles relish them. And the family unit, as well as the gender roles therein, are slowly being redefined because of it.
Given that, I get frustrated at the oft-repeated, doom-and-gloom statistics thrown out about our nation’s supposed fatherhood crisis. I find it difficult to believe that we need a government-sponsored ad campaign to sell dads on becoming, well, dads. While I understand that there are still very real problems with the state of fatherhood in America, and that I’m not necessarily within the demographic such campaigns are targeting, I’m still disappointed that more is not made of the positives that continue to abound.
But I also understand that paradigms don’t get changed by banging on the table and demanding respect. Nor do they get changed with posts on parenting blogs citing several statistics which support a particular argument. Paradigm shifts take generations. Just ask our working moms. They’ll tell you. Which means there will eventually come a day when American men are recognized for being the better fathers we’ve become. And it will be thanks to every single man who made the conscious decision to become that new breed of dad long before anyone noticed, except, of course, the people for whom his decision was made.
Japan is still not ready to embrace the concept of men taking on a more active parenting role. In fact, their press has latched on to a somewhat-derogatory term in describing Hidehiko Yuzaki and his decision to take a paternity leave — “ikumen” — which, loosely translated, means house husband. But I’m guessing that this enlightened man, and others in his country who are making similar decisions, don’t care too much about what the simpletons are saying. For such men are ahead of the curve. And their actions, while perhaps not immediately heralded, are setting the table for the paradigm shift which will inevitably come in the future.
And I, for one, think it’s fantastic. I may not know squat about Hidehiko Yuzaki’s politics, but I can tell you this. I sure hope he gets reelected.