Being a dad gets a little bit easier

It’s starting to be OK to be a dad.

My husband noticed this during the NBA playoffs. The NBA ran a public-service ad where players talk up being parents, too. “I want to be a great player,” says Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz, “but I want to be an even better father.”

“I lean in at home so Adrienne can lean in to her work,” says Chris Bosh, a Miami Heat forward and a two-time NBA champion. (Adrienne Bosh runs a boutique in Miami. She told People magazine last year: “Chris is a great father. He helps me dress the kids, feed them and put them to bed — when he is not sword-fighting with our son! I would not be having more kids with him if he weren’t so good.”)

The NBA partnered with Sheryl Sandberg’s to produce the ad.

This is good.

It signals a cultural shift, if ever so slight, that the role models of our day would publicly celebrate being dads.  Other examples of change:

When White Sox first baseman Adam LaRoche, 36, quit (walking away from $13 million) because he was no longer allowed to bring his son to work–as the Washington Nationals had allowed for four seasons–there were plenty of questions. But none of them were about his desire to put family first. That was in March. Just two years ago, when former Mets utility player Daniel Murphy, 31, took advantage of the league’s three-day paternity leave policy, he was lambasted for it on talk radio. (Major League Baseball has allowed players three days off for the birth of a baby since 2011. Before, players were expected to either fly in for a few hours or skip it altogether.)

Earlier this month, a Nats player took paternity leave with no controversy at all. The headline was just “Turner called up; Zimmerman to paternity list.”

Ads that feature dads have been on such a rise since 2015 that the industry calls it “dadvertising.” All dispense with the stereotype of the bumbling dad. These range from strstr(" target="_blank"", "class=") ? "" : ""emotional documentary storytelling, about how you can be a good dad even if you didn’t have a good dad, to a strstr(" target="_blank"", "class=") ? "" : ""funny, fast-talking, day-in-the-life look at one modern dad.

In 2000, Dockers advertised its stretch pants with sex appeal: a man meeting his girlfriend’s family, sitting down at the dinner table, and not being sure whose foot was sliding up his pant leg. Today, online Dockers ads show a man with kids hanging onto each leg, and that’s what make stretch pants a good thing.

One more ad. This one, looking at how gender roles form across generations, asks a thought-provoking question. It’s airing in India, but it’s no longer unthinkable that such an ad could be taken seriously in the U.S.:

Paul Ryan refused to take the country’s second most powerful position, Speaker of the House, in October unless he could spend weekends at home in Wisconsin with his family. Ryan has opposed federal policies on family leave and child-care subsidies, so he’s no poster boy in this arena. But his demand sent a powerful and important message.

Slowly but surely, these messages give dads everywhere permission.

Permission to talk about wanting to spend time with family. Permission to take time for family. Permission to become more equal partners at home, including to stay home as the lead parent. Permission to create family-friendly policies for employees. Permission to see caregiving as everyone’s responsibililty.

As Anne-Marie Slaughter notes in her manifesto, Unfinished Business, full advances for families won’t come unless men do their part to stand up and model change.

That hasn’t always been easy. To all of the dads standing up and leaning in, thank you–and best of luck.

Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press
Written by

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, a public speaker, and a creator of places to speak and be heard. Sign up for her newsletter here.

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