IT'S INTERESTING to note this Father's Day that American men are becoming more fatherly.
Newsweek recently reported that 30.7 percent of married working women make more money than their husbands. Now a woman might expect her husband to bring home the bacon, cook it, clean up, share parenting and/or never let her forget that he's a man. Fathers have adapted to their new economic and family realities and will likely change even more in the future.
I see evidence all around that men and women will increasingly share parenting, regardless of who brings home the bacon. For example, this year, something monumental happened at our daughter's Mother's Day Tea at preschool, a sweet event at which the children serve bow-tie pasta, brownies, Rice Krispies treats and fruit to their Moms. A dad came.
His wife, a stay-at-home mother, was in the Caribbean celebrating her 40th birthday with friends. Red eyes matching his wrinkled red T-shirt (all the mothers wore crisp spring outfits), Dad moved along the buffet, admonishing his son to take only one brownie, just as all the moms had counseled their children before him.
"I'm doing double duty," he said, scooping a pile of pasta with pepperoni onto his blue-and-white floral paper plate. "Trying to get some work done in the evening after they go to sleep. It's hard to balance. I can't wait until I can have a full night's sleep again."
Since becoming a mother 6 1/2 years ago, I have gauged the presence of fathers with children in supermarkets during the day as a barometer of how much or how little dads are doing. This anecdotal information tells me all I need to know about whether men are sharing the grunt work of parenting. As anybody who has ever juggled a couple of children and a long grocery list can attest, this is not an activity one does for kicks.
The Daddy-in-the-Supermarket index has recently spiked. In a Washington Safeway at 10 a.m. on a recent Tuesday, fathers ambled through the aisles in record numbers. A young dad wheeled a baby in a shopping cart seat, a toddler tagging behind. On line at the pharmacy, a father picked up a prescription for a son just diagnosed with strep throat. Still, in keeping with national averages, mothers well outnumbered fathers.
The changes in fathers in my neighborhood mirror the changes nationwide. In the past decade, the number of families with stay-at-home dads and working moms rose by 70 percent, up to 1.7 million couples who have reversed Ozzie and Harriet-type roles. A ream of studies shows that men, particularly those in dual-income households, spend more time doing child care and household chores than they used to (although still far less than women). Fathers now constitute nearly 17 percent of the nation's single parents, up from 12 percent in 1970.
Since the women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s, mothers have asked and expected fathers to do more than earn family income. And, as Eddie Murphy's character discovers in his film Daddy Day Care, once dads get a taste of hands-on fathering, they don't want to let go.
Ideas and practices about fatherhood mutate every day, although seemingly slowly. My friend Dave Driscoll, a father in a dual-income household, reports, "My father-in-law saw me changing my son's diaper last weekend and looked at me like I had two horns coming out of my head. He just doesn't get it."
Men have altered their views and actions, if not fast enough to satisfy women or equal their efforts. But changes in finances, the workplace, our culture, family relationships and views about fathers point to continued movement toward fathers doing more parenting and household work.
Julie Shields, an attorney and writer, is the author of How to Avoid the Mommy Trap: A Roadmap for Sharing Parenting and Making It Work (Capital Books, 2002). She lives in McLean, Va.