Men are redefining success, fatherhood

(David Nigel Owens/Istockimages)
By Doug Most
Globe Staff / June 24, 2010

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If the folks at the Boston College Center for Work & Family could pick two dads from pop culture as the models for the fatherhood study they released last week, they could easily be Ari Gold and Adam Braverman.

Braverman, Peter Krause’s sensitive, always-apologizing, baseball-coaching dad on “Parenthood,’’ is all about family first.

Gold, Jeremy Piven’s hyper-stressed, power-hungry, sexist pig of an agent on “Entourage,’’ is, well, not.

It’s the Gold stereotype that Brad Harrington, the executive director at the BC center, would like to see eradicated. He said the aim of the study, which centered on yearlong interviews with 33 married, college-educated, first-time dads, was to redefine success, and what it means to be a father. The study also reflects how men are finally beginning to wrestle with the same issues that women have struggled with for years — making time for child care, pediatrician appointments, and other responsibilities that conflict with their work demands.

A few key points:

■ Dads found that they gained respect at work after having a child, and that new career options even arose.

■ The “traditional’’ family, where one parent works and the other stays home, is more outdated than bell-bottoms. In 1975, 45 percent of families fit that model. Today, it’s 20 percent.

Unlike many moms, who openly rearrange their schedules around child care or take advantage of flexible time their job provides, most dads did not, and instead used more informal, or “stealth’’ approaches, quietly slipping away to take care of their duty and then returning without any detailed explanation. The men said their approach was not because of a lack of support from their managers, but merely a reflection of their insecurity about taking a coparenting role.

“Women used to be legitimate at home, but not at work,’’ Harrington told us. “Men used to be legitimate at work, but not at home. Then the women’s movement comes along. But with men, there was no revolution of the same sort.’’

Instead, it’s been more like a slow and steady evolution to where we are today, with young fathers relishing the opportunity of being a dad, but struggling to balance the child care responsibilities, housework chores, and other new duties into their work life.

“Dads are not legitimatized at home yet,’’ said Harrington, a 54-year-old father of three himself whose wife works full time.

When they were asked how fatherhood had changed their aspirations in their careers, the dads answered that there was a time when climbing up the “org chart’’ mattered. Now, Harrington said, the fathers in the study wanted to be sure “that the family is happy, and it doesn’t matter where I am in the org chart.’’

To that, Ari Gold would laugh, crack “Let’s hug it out,’’ and then fire everyone in the office. Dads are not suddenly craving the home life (Diapers? Dishes? Dirty laundry? Bring it on!). Sure, men are more involved with their children. But there is no mistaking who’s still the boss. In 1992, 21 percent of women said their partners were taking as much or more responsibility for their children. In 2008, the number was 31 percent, according to the Families and Work Institute. And in families where one spouse stays home to care for the kids, 97 percent of the time, it’s the wife.

But what Harrington hopes his study does make clear is this: Today’s new dad has earned the same respect for care-giving, cooking, cleaning, and comforting as moms deserve for their role in the workplace.

“If we talked about women in the workplace the way we talked about men at home, we’d be sued,’’ he said. “But somehow it’s OK for people to paint this picture of men as hapless in their role as fathers. It’s time to drop it.’’

To read the full study, go to Doug Most can be reached at