Happy Father's Day? Piling on the Men in Our Lives

06/20/2010 08:46 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

He turned to me and said, "I think it's shitty that on Father's Day, the New York Times tells me I don't carry the burden of parenthood as much as my wife." All day long, my husband and I have been in a fierce debate over new research that shows that while men are now even more stressed than women about the competing tugs of work and home, old gender roles still prevail at home and at work.

Even as the GOP extols their "Year of the Woman," we live in a media culture right now that is demeaning to men. From magazine covers trumpeting the "End of Men," to the spate of "Boy Crisis" coverage, it's very difficult to feel good about the usefulness of too much testosterone these days. And I know that my Dear Husband and his peers really want to share childcare with their wives. My colleague Katherine Lewis says, mostly, these men are well-intentioned but lying to themselves about how much time they spend with family. I say, give the men a break. As I've written on these pages with Ellen Galinsky, the world is changing, and change is hard. Let's all take a breath.

Tara Parker Pope's article in the Times quotes, "Fathers also seem more unhappy than mothers with the juggling act: In dual-earner couples, 59 percent of fathers report some level of "work-life conflict," compared with about 45 percent of women, according to a 2008 report from the Families and Work Institute in New York."

The problem is, while men feel very stressed about these issues and men are doing more housework and childcare than ever, their wives may not recognize the full extent of men's commitment. Nor do bosses. While half of dads say they share childcare responsibilities at home, only 31% of women agree with dad's statement. At work, men don't pay the price women pay upon having children, but men don't get recognition of their changing roles either.

A new study from Boston College interviewed 30 young professional dads. At work, these men faced no real negatives when they became a dad- they got slapped on the back and joined a powerful club. But this is a double edged sword for men: it meant new dads didn't face career barriers, but it meant people in the workplace didn't perceive fatherhood as a very important role and didn't expect any shift in hours or focus. This negatively impacts work-family balance. Not to mention, it really pisses off your wife when she's the one who has to bend her career to accommodate childcare responsibilities and men aren't expected to.

Younger men are going through a process of redefinition- struggling with their roles. It's got to impact my generation's self-esteem, marriages, sex lives, and everything. New studies show men in their 30s and 40s really asking, what does it mean to be a good father and a good man? In the Boston College study, being the breadwinner didn't come up too much. Data also show men don't think of themselves as breadwinners, they want to be more present at home, but they don't run the household either. Mostly, women still do (and 40% of US households are run by one parent, but that's another article). This is the rub: men feel stressed, but women still police the gates at home and hearth. Where do men fit in the modern family?

Ellen Galinsky agrees that while things are changing, they haven't yet changed. "Women remain psychologically responsible, and that's a burden," said Dr. Galinsky. "That psychological responsibility adds to the sense of feeling like you're doing more, even though it may be somewhat invisible." Working moms in my circle gripe constantly about how we earn money and run the home- and I'm guilty of it too. But that's not completely honest.

It's only half the story. Women have to be honest about how much of our traditional gender roles we want to give up. Like many couples, we both work, but I "flex" my schedule to accommodate more childcare. This is my choice. I do get to feel control over our home. But in my viewpoint, I win, because my husband was stuck at the Philadelphia airport for three hours on Friday, while I was snug at home. I don't want to be stuck in Philadelphia airport for three hours on a Friday night. My career may glow less, but I love my mommy time and I feel fortunate to have it, and I have to be honest about that.

It's all in flux. Men will have to get in touch with stress they feel about being at home less than they'd like, and pay the price at work. Women are now going to have to get used to how much it sucks to be stuck on the tarmac for three hours on a Friday night in order to advance their career. And, note to the media, a few fewer "end of men" headlines, ok?