Eighteen-month-old Parker Swearingen is learning that dads and moms can be caregivers. Part of Michael's routine is taking Parker to the playground.
The gradual emergence of the hands-on dad — one who shares the responsibility in changing diapers, feedings and baths for babies, and makes time to be a part of an older child’s school programs or just plays video games with them — began in the mid-1970s when James Levine, Ph.D., published his book, Who Will Raise the Children? New Options for Fathers (and Mothers) in 1974.
Levine, as director of The Fatherhood Project for the Families and Work Institute in New York from 1989 to 2002, suggested that fathers would need to take a more active role in the raising of their children for women’s equality to work, that boys and girls would need to be raised to reflect these evolving roles, and that institutions would have to adopt progressive sociological changes.
“When women became more involved in the workforce, and fathers were acknowledged by academics such as Levine, ‘fatherhood’ became the new phenomenon,” says Elizabeth Harris, a clinical psychologist who works with children and families. “The space was created for fathers to be more involved; there were the beginnings of paternity leave from corporations and the relationship of more day-to-day duties began being assigned and claimed by fathers.”
More than special moments
For some fathers, like Todd Treible, 42, a single dad raising a 10-year-old daughter alone, there is no other option. Chloe’s mother lives in Europe and all duties — from entertainment to discipline — fall to him. But it’s a bond he treasures; “She turns to me when she needs help or assistance; I think I’m her comfort zone, her rock that she turns to when she has an issue,” says Treible.
An active presence in our children’s lives is part of teaching, whether overt or not. Children glean lessons of responsibility and social expectations from parents as a matter of course, and it’s time spent with them that affords such moments.
“Fathers typically had the ‘Cosby moments’ role of teaching the life lessons, coaching sports and providing a model of providing for the family,” says Harris. “Now they can spend the real quality time of doing homework with their children, participating in school activities, taking their children to the doctors. Activities that, while not as much fun as going to the zoo or the park, are the fabric of life and that build the closeness between the child and the parent.”
“I appreciate being a daily part of her life because you get to see the little things, the everyday stuff that happens that you laugh about,” Treible says. “You don’t necessarily get that if you’re there every other weekend or not as frequently.”
Becoming a different kind of dad
For Mike Swearingen, 38, the time spent with 18-month-old son Parker is bittersweet. Back problems and a series of major surgeries have left Swearingen unable to work outside the home. Instead, he has days full of diapers, naps, and feedings.
Swearingen’s own father was gone for long stretches of time with his job as an engineer for the railroad. While he did the best he could when home, there were still events he missed.
“I made a promise to myself, whether it had been because of the back surgeries or not, those are things I don’t want to miss,” says Swearingen. “He never really had the chance or opportunity to go on field trips. I want to do as much as Parker wants me to do.”
Charlie Ivey, 43, regularly takes his daughters, 14-year-old Mallory and 9-year-old Olivia, fishing, camping, and canoeing on the Red River. It’s something Ivey’s father, a truck driver, never had the time to do.
“I love getting them out of the city and letting them know there is another world out there,” Ivey says. “I really do enjoy the time because we just sit and talk and there are a lot of times Mallory will open up with me — sometimes more than she will with her mom.”
Elizabeth Ivey works a hectic schedule as a nurse practitioner in the neonatal unit at Methodist Germantown, and doesn’t make it to all of the family outings. Charlie worked in environmental construction for 20 years before becoming self-employed in home renovation. It was a decision the two came to after Charlie spent most of the first six months of Mallory’s life away with his job.
He came home early from work one day, and went to pick her up at daycare, except he couldn't find her. " 'Where's Mallory? I asked, and they said, ‘That’s her right there, Mr. Ivey.’ I didn’t recognize this child," he says. "That did not cut it; I didn’t want to not recognize my kids every time I came home.”
Now, he spends mornings preparing breakfasts and lunches, driving the kids to school, and reveling in their time together. “I’m not making as much money, but I don’t miss a soccer game or a softball game. It’s just a great time. We made the right move.”
It’s a move some men are making these days, as a way to strengthen the bonds with their children, and to strengthen those of the entire family unit as well.
“Fathers generally complement mothers' influences on their children and that gives children a very well-rounded background for activities and interests among other things,” says Harris. “It's really important for children to know that each parent is perfectly capable of taking care of them. It develops self-confidence, trust, and role modeling of two nurturing, caring parents. It's a win!”