By decrying the less-motivated men as couch potatoes and “omega males,” Ms. Rosin and the men-are-schlubs school are contributing to a stigma that already exists around primary caregiving dads. I've dealt with this in my own life as a self-employed writer married to a midwife. If my wife doesn't respond to the beeping of her pager, someone could die in childbirth. So I'm frequently the one picking up the kids from school at the end of the day – then making up the time I've lost by working long into the night.
Five years into my career as a father, I cherish my time with my kids. But at first I struggled with the effect all this child care had on my identity as a full-fledged male. There were times I felt that pushing a stroller was as emasculating as carrying around my wife's purse.
What changed? Part of it is personal. I've become so confident in my parenting that I only kind of feel like a wuss when I'm surrounded by mothers at the playground.
The other component to my transformation is that I often don't find myself the only dad at the playground. In fact, I've accidentally created a wolf pack with a couple of other dads from my kids' school – one a rock musician, the other an architect. Most days find us doing manly things with our children, such as tearing into raw flesh with our teeth and punching ourselves in the face. So do we qualify as “omega males”? Do all the other guys we see at the playground?
If we do, then I'm proud of the label. Many other dads are too. “The 2011 sitcom man may be effete compared with his predecessors, but he's confident, devoted to his family, happy working around the house, pretty good at child rearing,” observes the Wall Street Journal article about the new class of sitcom dads, such as Will Arnett in Up All Night. Possibly, that's because the new child-rearing men realize they're exactly the ones leading the revolution in male attitudes toward fatherhood – they're changing stigmas while changing their kids' diapers.
Think of the Judd Apatow comedy Knocked Up, which forms such a cultural touchstone for this school of thought. The film features E! Television personality Alison Scott, played by Katherine Heigl, and Seth Rogen's character, Ben Stone, a pot-smoking, porn-consuming layabout. Ben gets Alison pregnant, introducing the tension that propels the film to its inevitable conclusion – she has the baby, he sticks by her side.
Film audiences may have an opportunity to find out what happens next when the Judd Apatow-written-and-directed spinoff, This Is Forty, premieres in June, 2012. In the meantime, we can speculate – because many of us know guys like Ben. Alison's maternity leave ends and she goes back to her job at E! Entertainment. The baby grows out of infancy and heads to preschool. The hapless Ben falls head over heels in love with the kid, cleans himself up and ends up as his child's primary caregiver alongside his more career-oriented wife.
What happens to Ben Stone and the much-maligned “omega males” like him? Many of them end up becoming damn fine fathers.
Christopher Shulgan is the author of Superdad: A Memoir Of Rebellion, Drugs and Fatherhood and is a parenting columnist for The Grid.
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