What is the measure of a man?
Martin Luther King, Jr. said it was "where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Your local men's department might look at it more in terms of neck sizes and tie colors.
And this time of year, every group with a clip board and a calculator (okay, a keyboard and a data processing program) is digging in to measure men -- fathers in particular -- just in time for their big day. (You know that Father's Day is THIS Sunday, right? If not, stop reading and go get Dad's shirt size, pronto.)
So how does Dad 2.012 measure up? What has changed (or not) since we took stock 12 months ago?
THEY ARE PROUD
There are now 67.8 million Dads out there, and, according to an infographic created by onlineschools.com and titled "Proud Papas," they are, well, exactly that. Ninety-nine of those surveyed agreed that being a father is "a very important part of who they are." (When was the last time you saw 99 percent of respondents agree about ANYTHING?)
They are particularly proud of the fact that they are not like their own Dads. According to the Ad Council, 86 percent of today's fathers say they spend more time with their kids than their fathers did. The "Proud Papas" survey, in turn, found that 70 percent say they do some of the grocery shopping, while only 32 percent of their fathers did the same. Percent who cook? 67. Compared to what percent of their fathers'? 22. Percent who clean? 70. Their fathers? 10.
Using a different prism, the Insight Strategy Group also parsed data showing the emergence of a new kind of dad. Their study broke fathers into two self-described groups, those who rejects the "values, style and attributes of that earlier generation of dad" and creates "his own, new paradigm", and those who "emulates the model he learned from," on the theory that what "worked for his dad is good enough for him." Looked at this way, more of today's fathers describe themselves as "new" (70 percent) as opposed to "traditional" (30 percent), and the two are very different.
Among the findings:
- 42% of new dads stay home with sick kids vs. 11% of traditional dads.
- 63% of new dads often watch their kids without their partners, as opposed to 18% of traditional dads.
- 69% new dads drive their kids places, as opposed to 30% of traditional dads.
- 77% of new dads listen to their kids talk about their worries and problems as opposed to 29% of traditional dads.
- 81% of new dads today are available for their kids anytime they want them, as opposed to 34% of traditional dads.
- 89% of new dads currently show open affection to their kids, as opposed to 34% of the traditional dads.
THEY ARE DEFINITELY CHANGING MORE DIAPERS
Dr. Laura King, of the University of Warwick's Centre for the History of Medicine, reviewed decades of social research and determined that while 43 percent of fathers said they had never changed a diaper back in 1982, that number had fallen to 3 percent by 2000. By 2010, she wrote in a paper published this week on the History & Policy website, 65% of British men reportedly helped 'a great deal' with diaper changing.
THEY MAY OR MAY NOT BE DOING AS MUCH AS MOTHERS AROUND THE HOUSE
All this means that fathers are approaching parity with their partners when it comes to dividing tasks like housekeeping and childcare, right? Men seem to think so. Of fathers in the "Proud Papas"study whose children are younger than two, a large chunk (82 percent) reported that they "share child care responsibilities evenly with their partners."
Which is great, except for the studies which dispute that rosy claim -- and each other. For each bit of research that shows men and women nearing equality, there's another that finds them far apart. And then there's the data that show men are doing more, and women are spending more time REdoing them. Or this one that finds that the value of what men do around the house is worth one-third, were it to be salaried, than what women do.
Bottom line, today's fathers are still figuring out their roles, and their uncertainty comes out in the data, too. A quarter of them told Parenting magazine (in the first ever "Meet The Modern Dads" poll) that, at their house, "Mom's the coach, Dad's the waterboy," or, "in other words, we clean up the throw-up, and Mom tells us the spots that we missed."
In additon, 35 percent said they defer to the women in their lives for their parenting advice, while 27 percent don't ask anyone for advice, they "just go with their gut", and only four percent would ask their own fathers.
Similarly, the Ad Council found that 70 percent feel they could use more guidance than they get on how to do this parenting thing.
THEY ARE FEELING A LITTLE DISSED
One thing upon which Dads seem to agree is that they don't get enough credit for their evolution thus far. According the Parenting poll, 66 percent say "anti-dad societal bias exists", a feeling particularly strong among the newest of Dads (82 percent.)
In a CNN.com article this week, Kevin Metzger, who runs the Dadvocate blog tells reporter Josh Levs that it is past time fathers stop being shown in the media as bumbling idiots. "We're not the Peter Griffin or the Homer Simpson that we're often portrayed as," he said.
David Holland, in turn, tells Levs that he is fed up with the "doofus dad" he sees in most ads. On his blog Blather. Wince. Repeat., he writes of the game he and his wife play while watching TV. During commercials they "try to see who can be the first one to spot the idiot husband or father" he says.
Lately fathers have begun to fight back in more public ways. One high profile example is the backlash earlier this year against the Huggies ad which showed fathers essentially ignoring their childrens' dirty diapers while watching football on TV. It's okay, Huggies said, these diapers could even survive a Dad.
A viral protest brought change, and Huggies has been contorting itself to show that the company has nothing but the highest regard for fathers. Meanwhile, though, Parenting magazine's highly touted, first ever "Dads Issue" this month, nearly every advertisement aims to sell baby products directly to... "Mom."
What are the odds that will change by this time next year?
Follow Lisa Belkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lisabelkin