How often do we equate the word "father" with "caretaker?" Until fairly recently, most men were expected to garner power, fame and fortune outside of the house, and serve a more ancillary role in raising kids. Not anymore. The number of fathers solely responsible for the care of their children is growing at a rate almost twice that of single mothers, and now numbers over 2 million.
With the ongoing impact of the recession, 80 percent of people being laid off are men, and tens of thousands of fathers are being thrown into new roles at home. Whether the role of full time Dad comes as a conscious decision to spend more time with the family, or due to circumstance - fatherhood is evolving.
Women have dedicated the past 40 years establishing an equal footing in the professional world, and have now achieved a 50 percent presence in the workplace. Now, a quiet but powerful revolution is beginning to happen on the other side. More men are staying home and not only liking it, but discovering how powerful and important their presence is for child development.
When guys are home parenting, you can bet there are a lot more games of Superman crashing through the house, soccer outside and creative meals made in one pot, but studies show kids benefit equally from a house run by a single mom or dad. As many modern parents know, the old adage that men 'aren't as good at parenting' reflects more a fact of lack of practice or opportunity, than aptitude.
Jeremy Adams Smith, is author of The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Fathers, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting are Transforming the American Family, now available in paperback. He is holding the primary parent role in his family, and has done extensive research into parental roles. He writes:
Where once it was thought that the minds and bodies of men were hardly affected by fatherhood, today scientists are discovering that fatherhood changes men down to the cellular level. For more than a century, it was assumed that mothers, not fathers, were solely responsible for the care, life choices, and happiness of children. In recent years, however, we have discovered that father involvement is essential to a child's well being, and that dads provide unique kinds of care and play that mothers often do not.
In so many ways, raising a family remains slanted in our collective psyche towards the more feminine interests and styles. Full time Dad's often feel awkward at the library "play groups" and feel like an outcast on the playground. Yet, when men become involved with their children, it helps bolster their self-esteem, improve performance at school and keeps them from high risk behaviors. While women have demonstrated different, but equally effective methods of leadership in the boardroom, men are standing up to redefine how to run a household.
One of the most creative and effective ways to explore the complexities of changing social systems is through storytelling. So, for all you Dad's who are out there manning the stove, changing diapers, driving the teenagers and taking primary responsibility for watching the kids, have I got a wonderful summer reading book for you. After all, I highly doubt the "Twilight series" is on the top of any macho reading list.
Home, Away is a new fiction book about a Major League Baseball player who quits the big leagues in his prime -- and gives up a $42 million contract -- to care for the son he lost in a custody battle years before. Written by Jeff Gillenkirk, freelance writer and former speechwriter for New York Governor Mario Cuomo, the story evolves from his own experience as the divorced father of a teenage son.
"This is a story about someone struggling with the conflict between work and family that so many people face: how can I have a career and raise a kid?" said Gillenkirk as we chatted by phone this week. Part of this story is inspired by divorced Arizona star Matt Williams, a major league baseball player who decided to leave the sport to spend more time with his family -- a brave move in a very masculine sport.
Whether or not you like baseball, have been in a divorce or raised a child single-handedly, this is a fun and quick read that reflects the complexities of relationships, the up's and downs of life, and the necessary sacrifices that are often required of both men and women in the long journey of parenthood.
Publicist David Jacobsen of Chin Music Press commented, "A stay-at-home dad myself, I can attest to the fact that there are really no novels that grapple with the conflict between a man's ambition and the love of parenting. Home, Away is about that conflict, set against the dramatic backdrop of professional baseball."
Gillenkirk is an advocate for educating men about the importance of early involvement in their children's lives. He plans to use his fiction novel as a tool to help men talk about the importance of being involved with their kids, as they are going through mandatory parenting classes before formal divorce. He meets with prison inmates to explore the generational toll of absent fathers, and high risk behavior.
"If Dad's get involved at the beginning, they become bonded and so involved, it stays for the rest of their life," said Gillenkirk. "It often boils down to men not taking the opportunity to parent, and always default to work taking precedence."
If books are not your cup of tea, there is a great new documentary out called The Evolution of Dad, written and directed by New Jersey-based stay-at-home dad Dana Glazer, who sees the shifting landscape of fathers, and recognizes this is a time unlike the generation before, or the generations to come. According to The New York Times, "Dads like Glazer are redefining the role, rejecting old expectations while still answering to them, knowing they don't want the earlier model but not yet certain what the new model should be."
Check out this emotion-filled YouTube clip of the film that this is sure to awaken the special place Fatherhood holds in our collective hearts.
As Ed and Deb Shapiro often cite here on HuffPo, "Be the Change." How are men redefining the role of caretaker in your experience? Love to hear your comments and stories below. Feel free to click on "Become a Fan" to receive weekly updates.
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