My day usually begins around 5 in the morning with a gleeful squeal of "Daddy!" from my toddler son. So as Father's Day approaches, my first wish is for just one lazy morning of uninterrupted and indefinite sleep.
But let's aim for something that is actually possible: a future that makes good on the radical idea that women and men should be treated equally. We don't live in that world today. Being a parent has made that sad fact abundantly clear to me.
I'm proud of how I am as a dad -- and especially that I'm a (mostly) equal partner to my wife. But most of the moms I know don't feel that same pride. They talk about feeling guilty because they're working on careers while raising their kids. Why am I satisfied with my performance as a dad, and these amazing women so hard on themselves? As a man, I've been subtly and not so subtly taught, all my life, by our society and culture, that I'm already good enough. Moms are supposed to be selfless, endless caregivers, but if a dad just spends some time -- well, that's so much more than what dads did in previous generations that it's great.
Me and my dad, back in the day.
We need to change that double standard. I want my little boy, and his big brother, to grow up in a world of real gender equity. Of equal pay for equal work, where someone's gender doesn't influence what they study or are told they're good at. Where everyone is actually safe -- from sexual assault, domestic violence, and daily harassment like catcalling. Where moms are proud of their work both out in the world and at home -- and where dads get credit only when we take on a fair share of parenting.
One of the ways I'm trying to change the double standard is to model equal parenting for my boys. For my family, sharing parenting and homemaking equally means I'm waking up at an ungodly hour in the morning, dropping off and/or picking up from school, cooking, washing dishes, and doing bedtime. Sometimes things are busy for me at work, and my wife picks up the slack. Sometimes she's busy and I take the lead.
My family today. (Credit: Apple of My Eye Photography)
I'm able to try to be an equal parent now because I was there from the beginning. When my sons were born I was able to take paid family leave and to be home learning to care for my babies. I understand, personally, why the research shows that dads that take significant leave are more engaged parents throughout their children's lives. Once you're into a comfortable routine, you stay there. As a dad, you have to be engaged from the beginning, or you'll struggle to feel confident with all the details and skills needed for your baby's care. If the majority of moms are the ones doing round-the-clock baby duty while most dads head out to earn the money, of course we're all going to repeat the unequal roles of the past.
I can only imagine how much harder those early new-baby days are for families who don't have the privilege of professional jobs, good family leave policies, and the stability of savings to tide us over when earning takes a backseat to caregiving. Their stories are everywhere. Moms who go back to work two days after giving birth because that paycheck means the difference between paying the rent and, well, not. Dads who work seven days a week at multiple jobs and never see their babies awake. Being a parent is hard enough even for someone like me who has an amazing wife, a generous and supportive community, and grandparents close by.
My friends who are dads all want to be present and equal partners in the lives of our families. And many of them, despite being middle-class professionals, have had to make impossible choices between their kids and their jobs. Between the kinds of dads they wanted to be, and the compelling careers they were also nurturing. Dads, moms, single parents, same-sex parents, working-class parents, adoptive parents, really every parent should be able to take paid leave when a new baby comes. When you're keeping a tiny person alive and safe, you shouldn't be worrying about paying the rent or affording groceries or holding onto that job.
Turns out most Americans agree with me. In 2012 a bipartisan poll on behalf of the National Partnership for Women and Families found that a whopping 86% of us support paid leave - 96% of Democrats and 73% of Republicans. But you would be wise not to hold your breath waiting for national legislation. That's why I'm part of a historic campaign in Washington, D.C. for a citywide paid family and medical leave program that would cover everyone who lives or works in our city. It's the right thing to do, for all our families, and so that my boys can grow up in a more equal world.