A glance at the celebrity magazines shows us that a "new" face of modern fatherhood is emerging. Whether it's Ben Affleck taking daughters Violet and Seraphina to ballet class or Brad Pitt juggling his filming schedule to spend time with his kids, modern dads appear to be hands-on, engaged with childcare and ready to embrace fatherhood as a central part of their identities. David Beckham is perhaps the exemplar of this new breed of modern dads, proudly toting baby Harper on family trips and outings and often seen out enjoying family activities with his boys, Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz. He has proudly asserted that "My greatest achievement is my family." For these men, their role as hands-on fathers is a badge of honor, worn as proudly as their sporting prowess or their leading movie roles.
But what does this tell us about the changing realities of fatherhood around the world? Are men stepping up to the plate when it comes to the time and work entailed in raising a family? And do the worlds women think that their partners are pulling their weight?
The online "Papa" exhibition shows that while dads are changing, the pace of change is not as fast as Hollywood dads might make us think. Global statistics show that women spend far more hours caring for children than do men -- according to a recent report from UNICEF, women's workload and time sacrifice on childcare and domestic work are greater than men's in nearly every country in the world.
These facts are borne out by the moms we interviewed for the exhibition. In a short video compilation, these mothers from around the world talk about how modern dads really behave. Lusina, a mother of five in rural Kenya, says that the role of a dad is "to get you pregnant and take the flock to graze... But of all the mother's work, a woman does everything." A working mom of twins in China shares that her husband cannot reach the standards of fatherhood that she would like, but that "he is trying," which is the best that she can hope for. Only in Norway, does a mom assert that her husband's role and childcare responsibilities are "the same as the mother."
The exhibition also digs deeper to find out how men fare when they confront society's expectations of the roles of dads and become the full-time caregivers of children. In a thought-provoking documentary from Hungary called Mr. Mom, filmmaker Zsuzsanna Geller-Varga follows a Hungarian family for a year to explore what happens when the mother is the breadwinner and the father is the caretaker. The Hungarian father in the film faces the strong disapproval of his own parents, as well as his own fears that "I'm a guy thinking that this is not what I was born to do." His wife faces her own concerns and conflicts. "At home I try to be a woman and not just a breadwinner," she says. The dad in the film pronounces that his experience was "worth it" but not something he would repeat. "I need a bit more than this," he says.
The Papa exhibition gallery also travels to Peru, Burundi and Brazil to meet fathers who are working in different ways to change society's expectations of fathers. These men are helping their wives with childcare and household chores and breaking cycles of domestic violence -- often to surprise, derision or even hostility in their communities. But the result is that the women and mothers in their communities are empowered, healthier and happier.
So, what does David Beckham really tell us about the face of modern fatherhood? Perhaps more than we think. The world's moms are asking for dads who will be partners in raising children and who won't be afraid to parent in a more active and involved way than past generations. And while the pace of change may be slow, a shift is happening. It takes dads who are unafraid to do what their communities may expect and who are prepared to be role models for change. Every time David Beckham is spotted caring for his kids, or asserts that being a Dad is his greatest role and achievement, he is a part of that movement for change that will liberate and empower the world's women and men.
The Papa Gallery is available online as part of the International Museum of Women's MAMA: Motherhood Around the Globe exhibition
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