The modern image of the engaged dad

dad-looks-back-fall2013Writer Joe Banks sees a wonderful world among today’s dads, who adeptly change diapers, multitask, and share chores, in contrast to the ‘feared dads’ of the past

I like today’s dads.

They’re engaged with their families, appear willing to share chores and seem to be able to change diapers as efficiently as a pizza maker spinning dough.

I see them jogging, with those hopped-up three-wheeled all-terrain strollers, through Chapman Mills or the Glebe, all in the name of finding a way to condition themselves, get the wee one some fresh air, and catching updates on the Large Hadron Collider via their earpiece-equipped super-phone.

Now maybe that’s got something to do with women swooning when they see a young dad acting so, well, sweetly in a hunky way, but I’d like to think it’s because their mom implanted a behavioural microchip at birth.

Seriously, though. I was at a mixed-gender baby party for a colleague earlier this spring and marvelled about the relaxed way a 42-year-old dad walked around with the diapered three-month old girl – even though he was just a colleague of the mom and had an excuse not to do so.

He was so comfortable with her in his right arm that he picked away at the buffet table with the left hand, maintained a focused conversation and rocked her to slumber with little effort.

I tried to recall doing that with either of our daughters.

But 25 years and change later, the memories are a blurred bridge mix minus the chewy chocolate: good but not entirely satisfying.

Though my wife of 30 years seems to believe I was as engaged as any dad was in the 1990s. And I do certainly remember enough to know, based on my mom’s observations, that I was practically Atticus Finch compared to my own dad.

But still, like the great Louis Armstrong, I see a wonderful world among the dads I see and know.

Look at the evidence. Prince William holding his and Kate’s new son was the favoured image for the western world media industry, reflecting the modern image of the engaged dad. No accident that.

The young man named Chris Hunt who you regularly read opposite this space — coincidentally a former student of mine — shows a rare depth of fatherly wisdom in his writings about his perspectives on being a new dad. Makes me wonder where he got the time to be coached by the Dalai Lama, when we had him working like a one-armed paper hanger in class.

Of course, all of these displays of masculine security are a far sob from my dad, who left it all — all — up to my mom, except the scary yelling parts.

Like most men of his era, Dad was to be feared.

He died at 64. Mom, who was our refuge, is today on Facebook, runs the garden club in her seniors res and Skypes her grandchildren. She’s 81 and we’re all waiting for her to announce she’s running away to Costa Rica with the pool boy.

Not to say that being a feared dad is bad for your health, but the good ones are finally having their day.

And, surprise surprise, all kinds of scientific literature backs up the case for engaged dads, even well into the offspring’s teens.

A Pew Research study has found that American fathers now spend more time engaged in housework and child care than they did half a century ago. And the amount of time they devote to paid work has decreased slightly over that period.

Researchers at Boston College surveyed 3,206 teens, ages 13-18, once a year for four years. All of the teens came from two-parent homes. Teens were asked about their sexual behaviour and their relationship with their parents.

The findings

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show that while mom does play a role in preventing risky sexual behaviour, dad has double the influence. The more engaged dad is in the life of his teen, from knowing his friends and the activities they participate in to knowing where they are going and encouraging family activities, the more dramatic the impact when it comes to decreasing risky sexual behaviour.

Which pretty much explains why I feared dating until I graduated from college.

Thanks for that, dad.