How Dads Become the New Moms—And Why It Might Be Better for Our Kids

This city's Ergo-wearing, playdate-arranging, totally involved fathers are anxious to discuss breastfeeding ... with their friends. A look at the new Philly father.

The IDEA Group meets the first Wednesday of every month at a different Center City bar. They haven’t missed a meeting in two years—although this year, they had to push the July meeting back a week because of the Fourth. Many of the members are lawyers. A few are named Eric. There are also do­ctors, and at least one guy each in real estate, finance and politics. They wear artsy glasses and black tees, or banker blue dress shirts buttoned almost to the top. Mostly, what they are is this: Center City dads who need a night out.

At 9:15 on a September evening, they begin to trickle into the Cambridge on South Street, a new bar that only looks old and has a beer list that reads like an Excel spreadsheet. The dads, mostly in their 30s and 40s, take over two tables, then four. They jump among topics—the Eagles, day camps, Bill Clinton, how tomorrow is the first day of school, baby monitors that work via apps. They are giddy and loud. They talk over each other and play musical chairs. It could be a college reunion.

[Click here to see more photos of the New Philly Fathers.]

Their official mission statement has something to do with not drinking alone, but it could just as easily be their oft-rep­eated mantra: If it’s after 9 p.m., it doesn’t count as a night out. The kids are already in bed. They’ll no doubt say it again to their wives when they get home after midnight.

They tear into layered nachos and bulging burgers. The waitstaff is busy bringing rounds of Russian stouts and IPAs. The dads long for this downtime because—in a turn of events that would no doubt make previous generations of men either chuckle or choke on their beers—they’re so taxed from taking care of their kids that they need their very own version of book club.

“The fact that dads have to schedule time is, I guess, a testament to the fact that we’ve left the Mad Men generation. The father has a real responsibility to the home,” says Eric Berger, 44, the sociable founder of the IDEA Group. “I basically started the group as an excuse to get out. We decided the only time we can get out is if we have a set, structured appointment.”

As a pediatrician, Berger is already attuned to children. But he’s also a very dedicated dad. In 1998, he opened his popular practice, Center City Pediatrics, within walking distance of his home in Fitler Square because “I wanted my son and daughter to come visit.” Until his son was 18 months old, Berger actually took him to work; his daughter now attends the daycare in his office building. (His wife, also a physician, works full-time.)

Berger started to notice that more and more dads were coming to appointments, with or without their partners. “We offer services like mommy groups and lactation groups, and I heard the occasional complaint that we don’t have anything for dads,” he explains.

In the middle of all the chatter at the bar, he looks around at his boisterous buddies and nods. “I’ve seen a lot of oppressed dads,” he yells over the din. It’s obvious why this is a meeting these guys never miss.

For decades, parenting chatter has been dominated by motherhood. It’s made for some good fodder: Opting in and out. Having it all. Balancing. Tiger, helicopter and stage moms. The crescendo may have come this past summer with Time magazine’s buzzy “Are You Mom Enough?” breastfeeding cover, which delved into the controversy over attachment parenting.

But in truth, the real changes when it comes to raising kids are happening among dads, not moms. As the guys here at the Cambridge show, a new generation of men is challenging stereotypes, warping gender roles, and morphing into a group of Superdads. (Capes not included.) They’re staying home full-time. They’re working from their houses, or shifting their schedules to be there for bathtime. Every night. They’re strapping on the baby carriers with pride, grabbing their messenger diaper bags, and hitting the pavement—or gymnastics class. They’re spending mornings with their kids in coffee shops or at Whole Foods, and lining up to pick them up from school. They’re talking about the challenges of breast­feeding … with their friends.

This new dad dynamic is hard to miss. This fall, Guys With Kids, a new NBC sitcom about child-rearing dads, joined Up All Night, a comedy starring Will Arnett as a lawyer-turned-stay-at-home dad. This year, Jimmy Rollins took advantage of the new MLB “paternity-leave list” rule and took time off for the birth of his child. Bubba Watson, fresh off a 2012 Masters win, tossed out this tweet about why he was skipping the next big tournament to spend time with his newly adopted son: “The Players is one of the best weeks of the year but bonding with my son and wife is what it is all about right now #familytime.”

“There’s no question that I’ve seen more consistent involvement from fathers,” Berger says. “Whenever I have other pediatricians come in and observe, they’re always struck by how many fathers come to appointments.”

Which is not to say these men are just filling in when their wives aren’t around. Even as they take on more of the responsibilities and roles traditionally handled by women, these Gen X and Gen Y Philly dads—raised in an era of second- and third-wave feminism—are doing it their own way, and essentially turning baby-raising into a guy thing. And a generation of kids might just be better off for it.