Hanna Rosin declared “the end of men” this summer in The Atlantic: Men make up less than 50% of the workforce now, and traditional men’s jobs are in short supply compared to professions more typically held by women.
This week, Newsweek‘s cover story, “Men’s Lib”, by Andres Romano and Tony Dokoupil, looks at the state of masculine affairs and comes to the conclusion that, in order to get back on track, today’s man needs to “be creative” and re-imagine what he can do “in the workplace and at home.”
In short, he needs to embody “The New Macho,” a definition that includes “both Mr. T and Mr. Mom” and is best exemplified by the cargo pants-wearing, retro-tough guy and hands-on dad Brad Pitt. (Though, in fairness to every other dad in the world, I think it might be easier to take on creative family roles when you have dozens of nannies and housecleaners to back you up.)
“Ultimately, The New Macho boils down to a simple principle: in a changing world, men should do whatever it takes to contribute their fair share at home and at work, and schools, policy-makers, and employers should do whatever they can to help them. After all, what’s more masculine: being a strong, silent, unemployed absentee father, or actually fulfilling your half of the bargain as a breadwinner and a dad?”
I thought I’d run with this concept and came up with some handy tips for expectant and new fathers to help them get “on track” and find their inner New Macho right out of the gate.
1. Take paternity leave…
…If you can. We are nowhere near other countries when it comes to parental leave. But, as the Newsweek article points out, a surprising number of dads in America do qualify for some period of paternity leave under the The Family and Medical Leave Act. Recent polls show that the majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents support the idea of paid leave. But in California, where a program of paid leave was recently launched, only 26% of men took advantage of it compared with 73% of mothers. Though the “motivation is certainly there” (men are increasingly suffering “work-family conflict”), babytime is still considered a woman’s work. Men need to take paternity leave and support legislation that makes this a more acceptable (even enforced) policy. Studies have also shown that the more time a dad spends with his infant, the more closely they will bond and the better dad he’ll be. Guys have bonding hormones, too. But they won’t flow without a baby there to trigger them.
For some it means exactly 50/50 of all childcare and domestic responsibilities. For others it’s: you do this, I’ll do that. The division of labor needs to be creative and personal. Dads can do every single thing parenting involves except for give birth and breastfeed. Mom, this one is on you, too: the more a dad is given these responsibilities, the sooner he will feel comfortable with them. Look, Dustin Hoffman’s character in Kramer vs. Kramer only figured out how to make French toast when mom abandoned the family. Maybe all she needed to do was sleep in one day?
3. Read at least three books on infants and children.
I say three because one can be dangerous — multiple perspectives are helpful in forming your own parenting style. Often moms read the books and tell dad what to do. If dad has actually picked up Penelope Leach’s Your Baby And Child: From Birth To Age Five you cut out a lot of explaining and also avoid the syndrome of mother having to tell father how to parent all the time. Your reading habits should continue through childhood and adolescence. There’s always something new to learn about developmental stages and ways to help your kid grow and develop confidence.
4. When you can’t do something, figure out something you can do.
This is especially important around pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Yes, she’s doing ‘all the work.’ You are the useless thug on the couch next to her, or the guy in the labor and delivery room feeling ‘in awe of women.’ But you can get involved in pregnancy — maybe read one of those books during pregnancy, for example — and do what you can do: nursery painting and crib assembly, car seat installation, stroller decisions. These things will be done with your partner obviously, but just because she’s got a baby kicking her in the ribs doesn’t mean she’s the one who has to Google and print a list of local pediatricians. Also, take a good childbirth education class. A lot of the classes I teach are directed at men. Partners are incredibly valuable during labor and postpartum. Women are not getting the support they need from other places.
5. Move on from early buffoonery and fumbling mistakes and don’t look back.
Women having babies for the first time have tremendous instincts but so do fathers. But those instincts only get you so far. You still have to just flat-out learn a ton. My husband melted all of our plastic pump parts when he sterilized them the first week at home with our baby. OK. Moving on. It could have happened to a distracted new mother, too. We’re all on a huge learning curve, try not to let some dumb old daddy Huxtable mistake make it OK for everyone to settle into retro-sexual roles.
6. Don’t be afraid of the more traditional “feminine” jobs.
As Newsweek points out, we need to break away from the Meet The Parents mold whereby the idea of a male nurse is hysterically funny. Brad Pitt, were he not a mega-movie star, would be super cute in a pair of scrubs wheeling out meds in a children’s hospital. Come on, as long as there are cargos under those scrubs, nursing is A-OK. If you’re at a crossroads about your job, consider careers traditionally pursued by women: nursing, teaching, home health aids and customer service rep. You might also consider being a stay-at-home dad; only 3% of men have taken this on, despite the fact the majority of workers in America are women.
7. Stay, for lack of a better word, “manly.”
Maybe you’re not like this to begin with and that’s fine, but the message here is that men are plenty different from women. There’s no reason to pretend we’re JUST THE SAME in order to share in the work of being a parent. There are a bunch of books (Fatherneed) and articles out there about how “father care is as essential as mother care.” Apparently — due to some combo of nature and nurture — dads parent differently from mothers. And that’s not only OK but good. You are also allowed to wear hunting gear and hiking boots even if you spend all day in a minivan or on the uptown bus.