I’m north of 50 now, so I should be shaking my head at the way that younger generations are doing things.
But I’m here to confess my love of millennial dads.
Not in that way. (Sorry, guys, and not that you care, but it’s the beards. Men’s facial hair was ranked the #1 turn-off at slumber parties throughout the 1980s, and it’s hard for us Gen X women to change.)
What I love about millennial dads is seeing them unlock new levels of parenthood.
Last year, I helped moderate a forum for junior associates in our workplace to give input on how leadership could support their career development. When I raised the idea of occasional after-work networking events, a few young parents shook their heads no, explaining that they have to pick up kids, make dinner, and the like.
Those young parents were dads.
More recently, in line for coffee, I overheard two men chatting about their preschoolers’ ridiculous bedtime routines. Listening to their exchange lifted my mood as much as the double latte I was about to order. It wasn’t that these dads knew that Daniel Tiger came after bathtime or how the bedtime snack had to be served. It was that they were talking to each other about it with no moms present. A dad talking to another dad about mundane details of parenting! It’s the dad version of the famous Bechdel test — whether two women in a movie talk to each other and not about a man.
All around me, young dads are amping up their parenting. A dad making pre-meeting small-talk about helping his 9-year-old pick out her school outfit that morning. The dude with the young voice on the monthly conference call apologizing for a sudden loud interruption,“DADDY WHERE’S MY TUTU?!!!” (We halted the meeting until he located it for her.)
Maybe I happen to work with a lot of progressive dads. But I’ve seen changes elsewhere, too.
My youngest is in her last year of elementary school. In the 15 years since my oldest started kindergarten, dad involvement in the school has ticked slowly upwards. At pick-up time, I see more and more dads, in work clothes or sweats, rushing up to the door while on their phones or stooping to get babies out of the car and bundling them up to wait by the door. Dads shepherding small groups on field trips. Dads ditching work to volunteer at class parties in the middle of the day.
Of course, we all know that the plural of anecdotes is not data. So what do the experts say? Turns out I’m only sort of right. Since the 1960s, men have tripled the time they spend on childcare (but so have moms). A recent study found that parenthood caused a quarter of men working in science and tech fields to take a career hit — compared to a full half of women.
So you rock, millennial dads — to an extent. And while I’m giving qualified praise, a shout out to my Gen X male peers, who paved the way for their younger counterparts. While many Boomer dads probably never even changed a diaper, Gen X dads not only took on that thankless duty, but also attended lactation classes, packed up babies in Bjorns, ran endless miles while pushing jogging strollers, tossed toys back in bins each evening. But as moms know well, that’s just the outer layer of child care; the low-hanging fruit.
Now, I’m seeing signs that fathers are leveling up. Chatting with these youngster dads, I have been delighted to learn that some regularly read the preschool email newsletter; some know which immunizations their kids have had; one even called up places to book a birthday party.
I realize that I’m giving dads extra credit for something moms have always done. It’s like how invisible I was when I used to go grocery shopping with three kids under age five. When my husband would do it, people treated him like a hero.
And if truly equitable parenting is the goal, you only have to take a quick stroll through the blogosphere to see that even millennial dads have a long way to go. For example, dads still do the lion’s share of glory parenting — cherry-picking the fun parts, like taking the kids on outings instead of playing homework police, or giving them pizza for dinner while moms make labor-intensive, healthy meals that are met with whining. Is it any surprise that dads get more enjoyment and less stress out of parenting?
But as my grandma used to say, many hands make light work, and as dads increasingly pitch in with the full spectrum of parental duties, moms get just a little more breathing space.
I know we have a long way to go. But this gray-templed Gen-Xer is starting to take the long view on things: Some progress is the start of more progress. Those first flowers coming up after a long winter do not mean that spring has arrived, but we are excited to see them anyway. It’s getting better.