How Dads Become the New Moms—And Why It Might Be Better for Our Kids
Those with playground expertise know the slides will be wet the morning after a storm. “I usually have the Phillies rally towel,” Tim Pell says with a grin, “but I left it in the car. I’m such a bad dad.”
Pell is explaining this to his four-year-old daughter Ellie as he darts around Penn Wynne Park in Wynnewood, sopping up puddles with a neatly folded paper towel. He manages to make a polo shirt, shorts and flip-flops—his daily uniform—look pulled-together and neat. Ellie, petite and coy—with rad pink Vans and brown ringlets that graze her shoulders—waits patiently. That is, until their playdate arrives.
Bounding down the steep concrete path are the Joneses: mop-topped, bright-eyed Desmond, three, and Wes, almost two, plus five-month-old, chubby-cheeked baby Penny. Chris, their tall, vibrant dad, in shorts and a vintage-looking tee, is pushing the hunter green double Maclaren stroller, sunglasses on, bottle in hand. “The slides are wet and I only have a paper towel,” Pell laments. Jones digs through the worst-case-scenario hodgepodge in the bottom of the stroller and pulls out a bath towel.
Dad. Always prepared.
Jones, 31, and Pell, 40, are on the most extreme end of this new-dad scale: the stay-at-homers. They do everything needed to keep the house in order, the babies happy and the families fed. Their wives worked together as attorneys at Morgan Lewis a few years ago, which is how they met. Both women have since moved into in-house counsel jobs and continue to expand their broods. The families get together for pizza once a week, and the guys meet up during the day when they can.
At the Wynnewood playground, the kids run, jump, fall, and chase each other around. Pell and Jones get a second to enjoy the rare cool August morning and talk a little English soccer. They trade war stories—apparently Wesley, who will be two this month and who makes Usain Bolt look slow, pushed a chair over to the china cabinet last week, climbed his way up to a bottle of wine, and successfully smashed it on the floor. “I swear, I was in the bathroom for 30 seconds,” Jones says, shaking his head in defeat. “Thirty seconds.”
Penny wakes up from her nap and stirs in the stroller. Desmond takes a spill and cries out. “One kid isn’t even parenting,” Jones says to Pell, as he casts an eye over to his oldest son to make sure there are no misplaced limbs or open wounds. “You okay, Des? You got it, shake it off.”
Three years and about 10,000 diapers ago, Jones was a prosecutor in the Delaware County D.A.’s office. Pell cooked at the Four Seasons for six-plus years. “Being a cook is the best profession to prepare you for this,” Jones says admiringly of his friend. “I had to learn how to cook.”
These guys are impressive. But what’s most striking—and what ultimately might be the most significant part of the new-dad phenomenon—is what they don’t do. They don’t follow their kids around the playground like the moms, who are often waiting at the bottom of the slide with open arms. There are no kissed knees for a little trip. They slip in some kid talk—the fact that soccer is starting soon, how the baby is napping—but the phrase “Ferber Method” never comes up, and there’s no mention of height percentages.
The guys also don’t apologize for finding child-rearing to be an exhausting, mentally challenging job. Jones notes that he’s got Penny taking three-hour naps, and that he goes running—which he doesn’t actually enjoy—solely because he needs the break. For the most part, these guys seem able to talk honestly about the challenges of parenting without the guilt. Women aren’t so quick to admit they need naptime to happen as much as their kids do. In mommy groups, if a woman breaks down, shows up unshowered or expresses frustration, it’s always accompanied by mumblings of remorse, not only for actually having the frustration, but for admitting it. Confessing that parenting is hard might mean she’s not “mom enough.”
Even the full-time working wives of these guys can’t shake the feeling that they should be doing it all. They grapple with the setup even though they’re the primary wage-earners. “There is such a burden out there that my wife does feel like, ‘I’m not being a good enough mom because I’m not doing the drop-offs and pickups,’” says Andrew Reback.
Maybe because of that uneasiness, the working moms still seem to be the driving force behind a lot of the essential kid things. “Since I’m not at home, I like to take the kids to the doctors’ appointments,” says Chris Jones’s wife, Angela. “When we decided to do potty training, I took the week off and we did it together.” She gets weekly developmental emails from BabyCenter, reads through them, and forwards them to Chris if she thinks there’s something worth knowing.
In contrast, dads bring their very male everything-will-work-out perspective to parenting decisions. “There is a difference between how my wife and other moms I’ve seen respond and react to things,” says Reback. “They talk to each other and ask lots of questions about every activity. For me, it’s more, ‘Beatrice didn’t eat well today? Okay, maybe she’ll eat well tomorrow.’”
Dads don’t pore over parenting books or websites filled with techniques and philosophies. They go on a paternal instinct. Andrew Reback says he read only one book, about transitioning children from bottles straight to finger foods, and that was because “We pureed food once and it was a pain in the ass.”
“The way men are raised, they’re more comfortable learning from experiences and taking risks. Women want to talk to experts and do research and gather info,” says Gill McKenna. “Guys have the philosophy that if I try it and the child spits it out, I’ll just try again later.”
And the kids of these dads seem to be less doted on, less hovered over, less judged against one-size-fits-all developmental milestones. In the recent book Bringing Up Bébé, author Pamela Druckerman explores how the French tend to parent—which, she concludes, makes for well-behaved, rational, mature kids (who also love brie). The French create a strict outline of rules and boundaries, but let their children have freedom within that framework.
The new dads, possibly unbeknownst to them, approach parenting the way the French do. And it’s not hard to surmise that these Superdads are raising independent-minded, well-adjusted children—who don’t need a trophy just for joining a soccer team.