Dads

One of the blogs I normally read, On Balance, had an interesting post yesterday about dads’ roles in today’s family, in today’s workplace, and in revolutionizing public policies. The blogger, Rebeldad, said that today’s men are contributing to change by asking for and receiving paid paternity leave. Only if dads continue to request more flextime, more paid leave and better benefits will US citizens be able to revolutionize family policy. (It’s not just a women’s issue, so women can’t do it alone. Paid sick and family leave affects all parents.)

Rebeldad is right. Today’s policies, in the better companies, are a boon to families. Jesse’s paid paternity leave was a huge help after Charlie was born. He had one week off, and his boss was very understanding about allowing him to work from home, take long lunches or leave early in that first month. Every dad deserves that kind of chance to bond with their newborn and take care of their family. Some employers have a long way to go in providing what dads need, a journey that will never begin without men asking for change from their bosses and their government.

But I also think Rebeldad was wrong. Men have not suddenly, in the last few decades, decided they want an active role in raising their children. I think men have always wanted to take part in the emotional rewards of interactions with family members. Maybe they just haven’t had the chances–or the permission from society–that they needed.

My grandfather (known to everyone as Preacher Pawpaw) helped raise my dad and uncle; he and my grandmother worked alternating shifts at the cotton mill, one doing day shift and one doing night, so that the other person could be home with the kids. This was probably more about economics than true choice, but I can’t say that I ever heard him complain about the extra time spent with his children.

My dad did excellent work at a job he hated. I remember the papers of recognition on his walls for being the best in his area. And I also remember that his office was never off-limits to us. My mom brought me and my sisters to visit him when he stayed late at the end of the month or when she needed to run a few errands. We hung out and played with typewriters, stamp pads and office supplies while he made calls and printed reports. Maybe it was because he was the manager that he could get away with this kind of flexibility, but he never failed to be there if mom couldn’t pick us up from school after special events or for illness. Today, he works at a job he loves, and still he finds time to pitch in. My sisters and mom rely on him to pick up or drop off the grandkids, to have lunch with them sometimes, to take days off for special events, to answer phone calls when he’s not in a hearing and to always keep the welcome mat brushed off at his office. I think we could pretty much drop by just to say hello and get a drink of water, if we were in the neighborhood.

I’m glad dads’ roles in society are changing, opening up to new possibilities. But, in my experience, dads have always been much more to their families than merely breadwinners.

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