My sister got married in the 70s. I was only six but I still remember her walking down the aisle, while my brother-in-law-to-be awaits her in his best pair of bell bottoms. He was a modern man, and as such he was a husband who “helped”. He helped in all house chores, cleaning, and grocery shopping, and especially took pride in his dishwashing abilities. His willingness “to help” was astounding and novel, and my sister was considered lucky to have married him. When their first child was born, he also helped with the baby, demonstrating that beyond being a modern husband, he a modern father too.

In the forty years that elapsed since that wedding, the family roles of men continued to evolve. Instead of “helping” many of us are now true partners who share the full responsibilities of maintaining a household and raising children. Dads often scale back at work to make more time at home, and in the additional time they spend with their children they allow themselves to be more engaged, affectionate, and nurturing. Family life is more balanced, women have better opportunities for personal and professional growth, and children benefit from this increased involvement too, growing up to be more intelligent and even stand a better chance at moving up to a higher socio-economic class [1].

It seems like paternal involvement is a good thing all around, but people sometimes forget that fathers are also men, and children benefit both from male and female role models. Fatherhood is an integral part of male identity, not something that dilutes it, but it could be different from motherhood. For example, fathers may not talk with their kids as much, but they tend to spend more time engaging in activities with them. My son still reminds me how six years ago he and I assembled the computer desk in his room. As we were going through the steps of the instruction sheet together that afternoon, we barely spoke, but we fought a few stubborn screws together, and created a lasting family memory.

Four years ago, I went on a coast-to-coast motorcycle ride. For five weeks I rode a big bike through the back roads of the country, spending hours each day in contemplation [2]. Before I went away, my wife and I debated whether it would be a fatherly thing to do, but the journey (called Ride of Your Life) ended up having a tremendous positive effect on the life of our family. It turns out that being a great man is, in fact, the most fatherly thing, and being a great dad is the manliest. It’s cool to be an old-fashioned male like Steve McQueen, but even cooler to be Steve McQueen changing diapers. Do you agree?

[1] D. Nettle (2008).  Why do some dads get more involved than others? Evidence from a large British cohort. Evolution and Human Behavior. Iss 6. Vol. 29, pp. 416-423.


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