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Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.
Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

MARGARET WENTE

Are today’s dads really so pathetic? Add to ...

Thank goodness it’s Father’s Day! For one day a year, people will say nice things about you and your kind. For the other 364 days – forget it.

When I grew up, dads were heroes. Now they’re bums. Sure, they have reformed, but not nearly as much as they need to. They shirk their domestic chores. They leave all the emotional work to women. They like being parents, but not the messy, tedious, yucky bits. Who organizes the birthday parties? Not them! They are self-absorbed, unaware, and generally clueless about what’s going on all around them. They are deficient in almost every way. They open the fridge, look straight at the milk and say, “Honey! We’re out of milk!”

Yes, that happens in my house, too.

When will men get with the program? Judging by the headlines, no time soon. “Women still disadvantaged by the amount of unpaid housework they do,” groused Australia’s ABC News. “Dads are more involved in parenting, yes, but moms still put in more work,” complained The Conversation. “Men believe in housework fairies,” jeered The New Statesman.

But don’t think scrubbing toilets will get you off the hook. It’s the emotional labour, stupid! Women make the lists, remember Granny’s birthday and worry incessantly about how everyone is feeling. Men don’t. This makes us mad. “Why Women Are Tired: The Price of Unpaid Emotional Labor,” explained the Huffington Post. “At work as at home, men reap the benefits of women’s ‘invisible labor,’” fretted Quartz.

My neighborhood is full of doting dads. Dads with strollers, dads with Snugglies, dads with yowling toddlers at the grocery store. My office is full of conscientious dads who fetch the kid from school in the middle of the day when she throws up. But don’t let that fool you. Their wives are serving a lifetime sentence of hard labour on the emotional chain gang.

Maybe it’s time to give the guys a break. Josh Levs thinks so. Mr. Levs is an advocate for family work-life balance and the author of the book All In. These attacks on men, he argues, are simply not grounded in reality. When you add up all paid and unpaid work – as measured by government time-management surveys – here’s how it comes out: “In two-income homes, moms work 59 hours to dads’ 58. In single-income homes, the breadwinner works more overall.” Working dads who live with their children spend an average of three hours a day with them. Almost all dads bathe, diaper, dress, read to and eat with their kids on a routine basis. Moms in two-income families often spend more time doing housework, but the dads spend more time doing paid work.

Those are the U.S. stats. So what about Canada? Oh-oh. “Stop the presses! Canadian women do more housework,” announced Maclean’s the other day. Writer Anne Kingston did a deep dive into fresh time-use data from Statistics Canada and found that “women perform far more housework and child care than their male partners.” Something, she concludes, has gone deeply wrong. “[A]t a time when more than 77 per cent of Canadian women work outside of the home and more than one-third of them out-earn their husbands, we’re in a serious societal stall that’s manifesting itself over who cleans the toilet.”

The story is a bit misleading. It’s true that women still do more housework. But when you add up paid and unpaid work, the picture is the same as it is in the United States. On average, Canadian men spend more time at paid work (72 minutes a day more), and women spend more time at unpaid work (36 minutes more). When you add it all together, men spend 10 hours and 47 minutes a day working, and women spend 10 hours and 11 minutes. That doesn’t look like rampant inequality to me. (It’s also not altogether clear that reading to your kids should be classified as “work.” But that’s another matter.)

This leaves us with “emotional labour,” a heavy burden to be sure, and one that, because it’s unquantifiable, can never be adequately measured. Mr. Levs think men get a bad rap there, too. He points out that even as more women outearn their husbands, men continue to be the main or only breadwinners in most families. That’s a big responsibility, and don’t think the guys don’t feel it. Just because they don’t gnash their teeth in public doesn’t mean they don’t wake up at 4 in the morning in a cold sweat sometimes, worrying that their job might be outsourced to India, and then what?

Sure, it sucks to be the only person in the house who remembers when you’re out of kitty litter. But there are worse things in life. Sure, dads aren’t perfect. Then again, who is?

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