Last summer my friend from a few houses down showed up at my door, wearing a slightly-bashful grin and something I thought I would never see, at least not on him.
“Do you have nail polish remover?” he asked, and pointed to his toes.
Each nail was painted a different colour.
“New look?” I asked, barely able to keep a straight face.
“It will be if you don’t have nail polish remover.”
He is the father of three daughters, all of whom have a very distinct sense of fashion, and bold taste in colour, apparently (heavy emphasis on pink). However, nail polish remover was nowhere to be found in his house, and he had been unable to chip off the lacquer no matter how much he scraped and scoured.
I was thinking of this incident not too long ago, when I saw another friend at the pool combing his daughter’s hair. This child’s long hair was so fine that it was knotting up as fast as the brush would slide through the strands, and I was so impressed at how patiently he unsnarled her unruly mane with patience I definitely wouldn’t have. Who would’ve thought that someone with a shaved head would be so gentle with a little girl’s hair? (It’s a foreign concept to me since my mother had hair and she just about took my scalp off when she’d brush it when I was a kid. I only tell that story because I know how many people can relate.)
Father’s Day just passed – a Sunday to celebrate with striped ties and power tools and personalized mugs. And while we tend toward the traditional on that day, it’s worth noting how the role of fathers has steadily changed over the years. More children than ever live, at least part of the time, away from their biological dads, and yet fathers are doing more hands-on work with their kids than ever before. Today’s dads (at least the ones I know) don’t fit well into what, for decades, had been considered men’s traditional duties at home. They now change diapers, take their children to the doctor, help with homework, ferry them to extracurricular activities – all while holding down full-time jobs.
In other words, they’re doing what many working mothers have done for a long time. And while there’s debate about the division of labour – wives still tend to do more than their fair share – plenty of dads have risen to the occasion. No longer satisfied with being the conventional breadwinner or the old-school disciplinarian, young fathers seem to take the responsibility of caregiving and values-educating seriously. I know someone who refused a promotion because it would mean too much time away from his kids, plenty who regularly rearrange work schedules to make it to their son’s sports, and at least one who has stayed home with the baby while Mom went back to work.
Though we still have a ways to go for equality in parenting, I wonder how many young women realize what a big deal this evolution is, and how long it took, and how difficult it was to arrive at this point. Not so long ago lived a generation that grew up with fathers who rarely lifted a finger at home, fathers who were mostly content to leave the details of child-rearing and housekeeping to wives. And by all accounts, many wives appeared okay with this situation.
I cannot imagine girls these days accepting such a state of affairs. They love their children but want their careers, too. They’re not alone in those expectations, either, because it seems men have responded to these changing demands admirably. Maybe they can’t braid hair or fold sheets the way we women want them to, but they are making progress and, more importantly, they are making a genuine effort.
Today’s fathers do more than play catch, organize science projects, comb waist-length hair, and supply toes for impromptu pedicures. They are modeling what a true partnership might look like, and what child care should really entail for all parties involved. So this year, now that the sappy cards have been handed out and the ties are put in the closet, I hope we acknowledge how far we’ve come. It’s so nice to see fatherhood done well.