Breaking Dad

Even though the gender roles associated with parenting are slowly dissipating, society still seems to have some daddy issues of its own in the form of dismissing the necessity of paternal roles in children’s lives. There are still implications that children are just a women’s issue rather than an issue for both parents. A father’s credibility in a child’s life is typically cast to the wayside in exchange for his stereotypical role as the breadwinner in the family.

One of the best examples would be the lack of diaper changing stations in men’s bathrooms nationwide. This issue was brought into mainstream media by none other than Ashton Kutcher this past March after the birth of his daughter, Wyatt, with Mila Kunis. It started with a Facebook post briefly highlighting the problem and promising that the first bathroom he goes into that has a diaper changing station will get recognition on his page. When asked why this meant so much to Kutcher, he stated, “I would like my daughter to experience a world where gender doesn’t dictate one’s responsibility or limit one’s opportunity. Having changing tables in men’s rooms is just a tiny step in the process of rectifying legacy gender discrimination.”

He decided to lead by example. Cleverly, he used #BeTheChange and then created a petition bemoaning the underlying sexism associated with having barely any baby changing stations in men’s bathrooms. In less than two months after it was created, it reached 100,000 signatures and effectively opened up communication with Target and Costco, the two chain stores it exclusively petitioned.

Kutcher’s involvement in this issue has made many realize just how lacking men’s public bathrooms are by way of diaper changing stations. This is because these stations are considered a courtesy option businesses offer their patrons. They are not required by law and this causes problems for many people, especially gay couples with children. If both parents are male, how would they be able to change their children’s diapers in a bathroom without a changing station? They have no other options except to go out to their car and use that as a changing medium.

If you or someone you know would like to shop at stores with changing stations in men’s bathrooms, please click here for a locator. By shopping at stores that are inclusive and considerate of all family dynamics, we can support stores that truly care for us rather than just our money.

With such little support given to fathers who are taking care of their children while shopping, it comes as no surprise that this bias leaks into other aspects, particularly with stay-at-home dads and the stigma associated with them. In fact, the Census Bureau has a very narrow definition for what it means to be a stay-at-home dad and who qualifies, often excluding same-sex partners, single fathers of children 16 or older, and those in a household in which neither parent is employed. This is one of the first problems. How can we protect and fight for stay-at-home fathers when we aren’t really even sure who falls in that category? How can we accurately gauge just how many men are in this grey area and are being denied aid, which they may desperately need to help raise their children, if the definition is inconclusive? The data I am using in the next paragraph counts every man who has been unemployed for at least one year and has a child or any children 18 years or younger, which I believe is a more accurate definition.

These questions are becoming more and more important as the number of fathers who remain at home to raise their children continues to increase. In the 1970s, only six men in the entire country considered themselves to be stay-at-home dads. Now, 16% of stay-at-home parents are men, which accounts for 1.9 million fathers. This is a staggering difference in the last few decades; however, not all men choose to stay at home voluntarily. While there are men who choose to be the main caregivers, there are other factors, such as the cost of childcare and high unemployment rates, that could force a man to stay at home. If you would like a better understanding of just how drastically the family dynamic has changed in regard to the proportion of stay-at-home mothers and fathers, please click here.

Most of these changes are good, though. With more and more men staying at home with their kids or even being more actively involved in their children’s lives, the better it is for everyone involved. As we now know, Kutcher is an active father, with Kunis calling him a “hands-on dad“, and he is not the only one who seems to want to be a bigger part of their children’s lives.

Peter Gray, author of Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior, explains that fatherhood has drastically changed within the last 50 years especially. He states, “I think the definitions of father have expanded socially. They also have expanded technically, compared to just a couple of decades ago, and, from an evolutionary standpoint.” One father, Stephen Miller, has witnessed this firsthand, commenting, “I think fathers would want to be more involved with their kids.” He continues by stating that he sees more and more fathers in the parks with their kids than he remembers when he grew up.  Continuing, he also thinks fatherhood is an evolutionary process that serves the purpose of each father-child relationship individually, with each parent doing what is best for their child and not worrying about anything else. He loves to go shopping for toys and clothes with his daughter or listen to Taylor Swift with her because that is what she likes to do. You probably wouldn’t find a typical father in the ’50s or ’60s doing this on a day-to-day basis; however, his willingness-and the willingness of fathers across the country-is a testament to the increased interest of fathers in their children’s lives, that being the breadwinner is not as important as simply being there for your child.

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