Change usually happens incrementally and with such stealth that it creeps into your consciousness like an ex-boyfriend slipping into the backpew of the wedding service. But occasionally, you get that instant aha! moment when you see something that registers immediately. Such was the case when I took Middle for an annual physical last week and realized that the doctor’s office was full of men and that all of them had babies and toddlers.
There was a time when I took the kids – much younger then – to the pediatrician’s office and found myself the sole non-physician male in the entire office. Mothers and grandmothers were there with kids of all ages and for any number of reasons and there I sat, reading a well-thumbed Dr Seuss book to one or two children while I awaited the call of our name. But last week was eye-opening on multiple levels. The first level was the simple presence of so many fathers concentrated in one area, actually outnumbering the number of women who weren’t on staff; there were mothers in the area, but there appeared to be more fathers there. The next level was the earliest years with the kids were spent in the DC region, which would certainly qualify as one of the forerunners in the fatherhood movement as men became more involved. But last week’s excursion was to a suburban physician’s office in a very politically and socially conservative area. There were men there with their wives, but I noted several bringing multiple kids in by themselves and all that I could think of was a paraphrase of the old commercial tagline, you’ve come a long way, buddy.
The 1970s seems to be the definitive decade for when the family structure began to go off of the rails. It was an economically difficult decade that really pushed more women to go back to the workforce and the increasingly vocal Feminist movement – born in the late 1960s – made it socially and politically acceptable for this to happen and women went back to the workforce in much greater numbers. The increased rise of the Great Society welfare program led to a literal destruction of the paternal figure in the inner city. Finally, the increased acceptance of no-fault divorce made divorce far easier to obtain yet the delay in the recognition that fathers could also be fit parents led to true hardship for fathers. Advertisers watched this and jumped aboard the bandwagon to target products to this new and potent feminist wife/mother market and rolled out such taglines as you’ve come a long way, baby and she can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan (and never, never let you forget you’re a man). The decades passed and as wages slowly closed the gender gap – and yes, I know that there’s still a discrepancy – and women moved into upper echelons, there were any number of publications and articles that told women you can have it all as it showed pictures of attractive mothers in upscale clothing playing with the kids or working around the house. But the difference was that more and more of those decades’ kids grew up seeing that Mom was actually being pulled and twisted like taffy to make things work while Dad simply wasn’t a factor in many cases.
We’re now two generations removed from that initial period and the kids are parents in their own rite. They’re not stupid and have watched what their parents went through and in many cases have decided that there has to be a better way. Men want to be the fathers to their kids that they often didn’t have and the women want help so that there’s some sense of balance; they want to be a person with a life, not a Twizzler. There’s recognition that there’s a cost to having it all and it isn’t only financial, but also physical, emotional and even moral. So more fathers are taking the opportunity to take up the slack with the kids in the daily life and that’s only fair, even if they know that it puts a serious crimp in the career plans. They understand in today’s world that while it can be hurt to have the employer let them go, it’s far more painful to know that their child let them go.
You can’t have it all. Ignore anyone that tells you that you can.