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Father's Day

The daddy shift: How 'slackers' can make pretty good fathers Add to ...

Ms. Cleary, the Halifax Montessori school director, attests to all this. “We hear about it a lot from the children themselves. One of the kids yesterday was talking about how she got into trouble for cleaning her toilet with a face cloth,” she says. “The interesting thing was that she was cleaning her bathroom with her father. We hear that sort of thing a lot: ‘Oh, last night I helped my dad make supper while we waited for my mom to come home from work.' ”

The gender balance she sees at her school's drop-offs and pickups is about 50-50, which is a lot different than when she started her career as a teacher 17 years ago. “Dads have evolved,” she says. “They're a lot more hands-on now.”   

The much-criticized “omega males” are the ones who are leading this societal change – a phenomenon that is just beginning to appear in the academic literature. “[S]ome of the increase [in males engaged in fatherhood] may be due to the fact that women are more likely to outearn their male partners,” Mr. Hoffman writes. “When families wish to have one parent at home while children are young, the decision about which parent stays home has always been partly economic, taking into account who has the highest salary, benefits and job security.”

In her seminal article, Ms. Rosin doesn't spend much time examining how the “omega male” phenomenon has affected family life. But one of her sources alludes to what's going on: Victoria is a biology major who wants to become a surgeon. She complains about her boyfriend lacking motivation, then finds the silver lining when she predicts that she will end up as the hot-shot surgeon while her boyfriend is “at home playing with the kiddies.”

Carleton University sociology professor Andrea Doucet, the author of the book Do Men Mother?, says she has lived a version of Ms. Rosin's story for the past 20 years: She is a professor and her husband is a naturopathic doctor “whose work schedule goes up and down according to the economy.” Together, they have raised three kids. “It used to be dad was the breadwinner while the mom mothered,” Prof. Doucet says. “Now, it can be the opposite – but this isn't like the 1950s, when the roles were really defined. Things are more amorphous today. Dad isn't the housewife – he's just a little more relaxed about his job, or working more flexible hours.”

I called up Ms. Rosin to ask her how she thinks the shift is affecting fathering. She had just finished researching a chapter for a book she is writing about the phenomenon. The chapter is about families in lower-income situations where neither partner has a university education. There, Ms. Rosin said, the most common scenario starts with a young couple having a child. They don't get married. The mother takes care of the child, finds work, maybe even goes back to school to get a degree.

“She figures out a way to make it work,” Ms. Rosin says. Meanwhile, the father cycles in and out of the family's life, unemployed, disinterested, possibly depressed. “One thing's for sure,” she says. “Those guys aren't taking care of the kids.”

Ms. Rosin was just about to start research on the way the “end of men” phenomenon affects the dynamics of the educated classes. We spoke a little about her own circumstances. The contributing editor for The Atlantic lives in Washington, D.C., and is married to the editor-in-chief of the online magazine Slate, David Plotz. They have three children, aged 10, 8 and 2; she acknowledges that she sees a lot more dads at the preschool pickups and drop-offs for her third child than she did when she was dropping off her first child. In fact, Ms. Rosin says, she and Mr. Plotz have about as equal a parenting arrangement as she has seen.

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