Among men with working wives, 32 percent were the regular source of child-care in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s up from 26 percent in 2002. Money plays a huge role in this shift: The economy tanked, and men lost jobs. But many women also have higher incomes and more promising career paths than their husbands. So when a couple decides to start a family, everyone throws the cards on the table: Do we want to outsource child-care? Who has more leeway with work? Who has a higher salary? Decisions are based on logic, not chromosomes. And in turn, the at-home responsibility is increasingly being dealt to the dudes.
Center City couple Alice Cathcart and Andrew Reback are a prime example of how the child-rearing decision now gets made. Alice has a lucrative sales job that keeps her on the road a few days a week, so Andrew is the point person for 16-month-old Beatrice’s daily caretaking. Andrew, who’s in technology, works on his own start-up from home and spends the rest of his time getting Beatrice to and from daycare, as well as hitting up their favorite restaurants, going to the playground, and hanging out at the pool in the summer.
Andrew, 42, tall and bespectacled, was born in Jersey but grew up overseas. His dad worked, and his mom stayed home. “I knew I wanted to be more actively involved in my daughter’s upbringing,” he says. Like the rest of his post-boomer generation, Reback came of age in an era when gender roles had been revolutionized. It’s not simply that he and other guys his age were surrounded in school and at work by women whose goals, ambitions and opportunities were equal to their own; it’s that they themselves have a far more pragmatic approach to relationships.
“I didn’t need to get my head around it,” Reback says of the decision to be his daughter’s main caregiver. He had more flexibility, his wife makes more money, and he wanted to be as involved as possible. “I don’t think it would have been acceptable 30 years ago. I’m happy now that I’m able to do this.”
At the same time, he and other new dads have recognized that satisfaction doesn’t have to come solely from a monetary contribution to the family unit. “I take a certain amount of pride in knowing my wife can leave me with both girls and things won’t go to hell,” says Nakul Warrier, 37, an attorney who lives in Wynnewood. His wife works full-time as a doctor in the city. It wasn’t long after the birth of their first daughter that Warrier decided he was going to leave his Center City firm, take a pay cut, and look for an in-house counsel job. Now he works from home one day a week and has more flexibility for things like daycare runs.
What’s surprising is that most of these dads don’t really see what they do as a big deal. Nurturing their child is a reality of life, not a chore. They don’t say things like, “I’m on baby duty this weekend.” The culture at large, on the other hand, hasn’t quite caught up.
“The expectations are so low,” says Andrew Reback. “Did you expect me to drop the baby? I’m great because I’m feeding my daughter?”
Pennsylvania Hospital family and child therapist Michele Gill McKenna has seen the evolution of fatherhood in her professional and personal life—she’s a Center City mother of four. “When my husband is out with all the kids, people stop to tell him what a great dad he is,” says Gill McKenna. “I do that every day, and no one stops to talk to me. Dads get a lot more credit for parenting. Even if the kids have uncombed hair and mismatched socks. If I brought my kids out like that, people would roll their eyes.”
“As a guy, I still get marginalized in parenting circles, which are heavily populated by women,” says Ben Goodman, a Main Line dad whose wife works full-time. “They’ll talk to me about parenting as if I couldn’t possibly know what my child needs. I’ve had to say at times, ‘I’ve probably spent a lot more time with my child than you have with yours.’”
In a way, the low expectations are a huge advantage. In the parenting classes she facilitates, Gill McKenna sees the effects of the way society has made motherhood into a competitive sport: “Dads can rise above that. Their parenting can be more pure, basic and relaxed. They haven’t been beaten down and berated with images of what it’s like to be the ideal mom.”