The Modern Dad Revolution
Thursday, June 17, 2010
This weekend we celebrate Father's Day and that's a good time to examine the changing role of Dads. Family dynamics and the recession have more fathers taking on a much bigger parenting role than in previous generations. We'll get an update on modern Dads from the founder of a collaborative blog called DadCentric.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Father's Day is this Sunday. And it's traditional to get dad a card or maybe a tie or a power tool. But it could be that the traditional Father's Day has not kept up with the times. Notions about what it means to be a father, how much time dads spend with kids and how much domesticity you can expect from a man are in the process of changing. Even before the recession, the number of stay-at-home and work-at-home Dads was increasing, and more fathers than ever before can be seen pushing strollers or picking up kids after school. Today, we'll celebrate Father's Day with a look at what some are calling the ‘dad revolution.’ And we'll explore the myths and preconceptions about men as parents and primary caregivers. I'd like to welcome my guest. Jason Avant, he’s founder and managing editor of the blog DadCentric. Jason lives with his wife and two young children in Leucadia. Good morning, Jason.
JASON AVANT (Founder/Managing Editor, DadCentric): Good morning, Maureen. How are you?
CAVANAUGH: I’m great. Thanks for coming in. Now we’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. If you’re a dad who’s at home with the kids, we would love to hear from you for you to tell us your story. Or if you’re seeing more dads doing daily chores with kids around San Diego give us a call with your questions and your comments about the changing role of fathers. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Jason, tell us how you became a work-at-home dad.
AVANT: It wasn’t really by choice. I was a technical recruiter by trade and had done that for close to 10 years and had been pretty lucky to have weathered the downturn in the economy. I started writing about my experiences as a father, boy, way back 2005, and it was a hobby for me, just something that I kind of did for fun and it made a little bit of money via advertising on the website. But the job market caught up with me last year around April. I was a contract recruiter and the company that I was working for decided they didn’t really need to hire anybody else, so I found myself out of a job and my wife was doing very well with her business. She’s a marketing consultant. And we kind of crunched some numbers and decided that it would be cheaper for me to stay at home and take care of the kids than to do something part time and have to pay for child care.
CAVANAUGH: And pay a babysitter, right, yeah.
AVANT: Yeah. Yeah, so that’s what I did. I kind of put all my working efforts into my writing and it was – it was a real eye-opener in a lot of ways.
CAVANAUGH: Well, what did you think about stay – the idea of staying home with the kids? I mean, was that something that, you know, you thought about and said, oh, I don’t know if I can do this. Or, it’s not a good idea. Or, it’s a wonderful idea. What was your impression?
AVANT: Well, I had done a little bit of work from home with one of my previous employers. I had a bit of a flex schedule so I could spend a few days working out of my home office and then a few days there, so I had – I’d kind of dipped my toe in the lake of being a work-from-home father. But I was – And, you know, I was excited about it. It is hard to spend, you know, 40 hours plus a week in an office and not feel that you’re missing out on a major chunk of your children’s lives. And I was excited about it. I wasn’t really aware of how much work it would actually be. I think being a stay-at-home parent is hard enough, whether you’re a mom or a dad, but I think being a work-at-home parent adds a whole other set of complications and challenges there.
CAVANAUGH: Right. I’m speaking with Jason Avant. He’s founder and managing editor of the blog DadCentric. And we’re talking about the myths and preconceptions about men as parents and primary caregivers, whether you’re a work-at-home or stay-at-home dad or you’re just spending more time with your kids. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. Now your blog, as I say, DadCentric, is a kind of a clearinghouse for a number of writers who are also fathers. What are the kinds of subjects that they’re writing about?
AVANT: Well, we – It’s kind of a mish-mosh of stuff. We’re very heavy on personal anecdotal type stories. We also do a few product reviews and the occasional contest and giveaway. But it’s kind of a mish-mosh of things. When I started the site, I had met a few other dads that were doing their own blogs online and we all kind of agreed that there really wasn’t a whole lot of stuff out there for fathers to read. Certainly, the print magazines have been very, very heavily skewed toward moms. And, really, online it wasn’t – there was no difference. I mean, there weren’t a whole lot of good resource sites for dads. There weren’t a whole lot of dads out there really telling their stories, which I think was really what got us into it. And we wanted to kind of put together something that was very honest, that was very, you know, warts and all accounts of, you know, not only of our kids lives, obviously, but really, I think, how our lives had changed. I think that, you know, writing about your kids is funny and they’re fun but to me the interesting story is not necessarily the, you know, the weird and wacky things that your kids do but how that affects you as a parent and how you see your whole life kind of through that prism.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I mean, it’s in interpreting the whole idea of stay-at-home parenting in a very different way, and lots of times a very, very funny way.
AVANT: Yeah. Yeah, it’s hard not to laugh at some of the things we do. I think there’s, you know, I think we’ve kind of all been force fed a stereotypical view of dads, certainly in TVs and movies, you know, “Mr. Mom” kind of ruined it for every father out there who’s doing a very good job at raising the kids and helping his spouse or partner raise the kids. I mean, and so we wanted to kind of deconstruct that whole notion of the dad as kind of a well-meaning but bumbling idiot and kind of, you know, tell our stories as we really see them and as, I think, a lot of dads kind of experience out there.
CAVANAUGH: We have a couple of people who want to join the conversation. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s hear from Jeff calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Jeff. Welcome to These Days.
JEFF (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. I was calling because I am also a stay-at-home dad and have been for the last three and a half years, and am also a work-at-home dad. I have my own business and have worked from home while raising our daughter.
CAVANAUGH: And did anything in your life prepare you for this, Jeff?
JEFF: You know, my mother often says that kids don’t come with instruction manuals, and she was absolutely right. I don’t know that anything could prepare you for it but I have a, obviously, a very supportive wife and have thoroughly enjoyed my experience doing this. And it’s been a real joy to be a part of my child’s life in a way that I think that I couldn’t have if I had been in corporate America or in a standard nine-to-five job.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thanks for the call, Jeff. And I want to ask you, Jason, do you get any sort of feed – I don’t know, criticism, weird looks or something from other guys who wonder how you can do this?
AVANT: Yeah, you know, I do get some of that. I don’t think it’s as prevalent as I thought it would be. And I don’t know if that has anything to do with kind of, you know, our – California being much more of a forward-thinking state…
AVANT: …I think when it comes to traditional parenting roles. It is interesting when I take the kids out to, you know, to the playgrounds or to do things and I’m surrounded by moms, you know, I do get a lot of, you know, kind of a wide range of, you know, hey, that-a-boy, thumbs-up to, you know, eyebrows raised, well, what’s he doing out here with us? And it’s – it’s definitely a challenge. I think, you know, from what I know of, you know, moms and I’m married to one, obviously…
CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Right.
AVANT: …you know, I think there’s a lot more of a community, of a sense of cohesiveness. You know, a mom can kind of show up to a playgroup at a playground and immediately start, you know, up a conversation. I think dads are a little bit less socialized as far as that goes so we kind of stick to ourselves and tend to be a little bit wary of strangers approaching us and talking to us about our kids.
CAVANAUGH: Now you say that one of the aims of reevaluating the idea of fatherhood is to take the archetypal concept of dad and kind of mash it up in new and creative ways. How do you find you and the writers on your blog are doing that?
AVANT: I think we – you know, with all the guys that write for me and, certainly, a lot of the other dad writers I know, it’s an odd mish-mash of very traditional views of the father as being the provider, the protector, you know, the – kind of the Atticus Finch figure of the house kind of, you know, and adding a lot of the things that really moms have been responsible for, you know, the feeding, the shopping, you know, changing diapers, making dinner and becoming more, I think, of a partner in that regards. So the real trick, I think, is how do you maintain your identity as a father and how do you, you know, and incorporate some of the things that maybe were outside the scope of what the traditional dad did and was expected to do when it came to the kids.
CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you more about that and I also want to hear from more of our callers but, you know, one kind of mash-up on the idea of fatherhood that’s going on is showing up in the kind of gifts that’s being offered for Father’s Day. And we saw a spa package being offered for dads in San Diego. Chris Guimond of Spa Velia is on the line to tell us about it. And, Chris, good morning. Welcome to These Days.
CHRIS GUIMOND (Owner, Spa Velia): Good morning. How are you?
CAVANAUGH: Just great. Now, we saw this spa package called “Rub, Suds and Grub.” I think that’s the total mash-up of what we’re talking about when it comes to this new idea of fatherhood. What’s in this package?
GUIMOND: Yeah, I mean, we’re essentially trying to open up or shift the paradigm that spas are – would not be for males and that, you know, Spa Velia’s a very male-friendly spa, and we have an entire side that’s set up. So we put together a package that would allow for something that’s maybe more conducive for somebody that’s not open to the idea of just saying I’m going to go for a spa. So we partnered with Quality Social, which is one of San Diego’s newest nightlife establishments and they actually have phenomenal burger and beer selections. We put together a spa package that essentially offers a 50-minute spa treatment and it would be typically a deep tissue massage and that’s for maybe dads who haven’t been in the spa before. That’s a great way to start. And then they can head on down to Quality Social, which is about 5, 6 blocks away from Spa Velia and help themselves to a spectacular burger and a beer of their choice.
CAVANAUGH: Now, you know, Chris, a day at the spa, as you say, is not something that automatically springs to mind as a gift for Father’s Day. Are more men getting into spa treatments?
GUIMOND: Unequivocally. I mean, I would say, you know, Spa Velia’s – We opened about 5 years ago and Spa Velia’s clientele is now pushing 50% male, so, you know, 5, 10 years ago in the spa industry, for sure it was definitely 70-30, 80-20. I mean, I remember when I first started going to spas in San Diego, I’d be lucky to find a place that offered any kind of a changing room or any kind of amenities for males. And now, especially at Spa Velia, we put extra focus to make sure that males are very comfortable and welcome and they have their own space, and it’s very conducive. So, for sure, the paradigm is starting to shift now and I would say our client base is pushing 50-50. It depends on the month, sometimes it’s even 60-40. So I think more and more, it’s – males are becoming open to the idea of frequenting spas and understanding that’s a part of their lifestyle…
CAVANAUGH: Well, Chris…
GUIMOND: …and a way to relax.
CAVANAUGH: Chris, thank you so much for telling us about it. I really appreciate it.
GIUMOND: Thank you so much.
CAVANAUGH: Chris Guimond of Spa Velia on the line, telling us about his special Father’s Day package called “Rub, Suds and Grub.” We’re opening the lines for you to join the conversation if you’d like to talk about some non-traditional Father’s Day gifts that you’re planning to give or what it’s like to spend more time at home if you’re a dad. 1-888-895-5727 is our number, and my guest is Jason Avant. He’s founder and managing editor of the blog DadCentric. So, Jason, you know, as we just heard, apparently some gender boundaries are definitely bending. But to go back to what you were saying about the idea of maintaining some of the attitudes and positions of that traditional father figure and incorporating this sort of nurturing aspect, too, how is it that a dad as a stay-at-home parent is different from a mom as a stay-home parent?
AVANT: Well, you know, I think that – I think dads are obviously very, very heavily impacted by the way that their fathers raised them. So, you know, in my case, you know, I do try to spend as much time as I can just kind of playing with the kids. My son and I go to martial arts together. We go out in the driveway and skateboard together. He’s getting a little bit bigger now so I’m going to take him surfing. So it kind of – you know, I do a lot of the things that maybe anyone would traditionally expect a father to do, you know, the – kind of the sporting and the activity type things. But, yeah, I think a lot of it is, just again, you know, with my daughter, it’s helping her pick out outfits and…
AVANT: …you know, I’m told every once in awhile that, you know, orange doesn’t necessarily go with blue and that sort of thing by my wife, so I’m kind of stumbling my way through that. But, again, you know, like I said, it’s kind of incorporating it and maybe doing some of the things that you never really expected to do or didn’t really think of. I think when, you know, like I said, when a dad thinks of being a parent, I think right away he’s going to gravitate to how his dad was around him and chances are, you know, they weren’t doing things like cooking the family dinner or, you know, helping color the, you know, the – the Snow White coloring book with the daughter, things like that.
CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 and Yves would like to join the conversation. He’s calling from San Diego. Good morning, Yves. Welcome to These Days.
YVES (Caller, San Diego): Hi, how are you doing?
CAVANAUGH: Just fine.
YVES: Yeah, you know, I’m really excited about your guest today because I’m an entrepreneur. I run two companies, and I’m a new dad and my daughter Madeleine is about nine months old. And it’s been really a challenge because I’ve been called all kinds of things by my friends. I’ve been called a house husband, which I was kind of offended. I was just like, look, you know, I do work. You know, I do bring, you know, money to the household, so it’s not like I don’t do anything but raise the baby. But I do really enjoy bringing her to work with me and all my errands. She’s actually out with an errand with me right now. And my business partners are, you know, really kind of excited to see me out and about with her as I do business just because they see that I can multi-task and really pay attention to detail while I’m doing what I’m doing. And Madeleine was even with me when I was signing my lease on my office. So in one arm I’m holding her and feeding her a bottle and in the second arm, I’m going through contracts. So…
CAVANAUGH: So, Yves, did you ever think that this would be your model of fatherhood?
YVES: You know, not really because my dad had done professional – he had done hardwood floors for pretty much all his career. So every day he went to work, and I was a latchkey kid and all that kind of stuff. But, you know, just in being with Madeleine, I really do spend hours on end with her and just recently we started to kind of transition to her into a daycare situation where if I have to travel out of town or if I have some really intense meetings…
YVES: …you know, I can focus. But I gotta tell you, I had an executive fly from London from this company, to my office to meet with me. And I didn’t know that she was a suit that was going to fly from where she was flying from. I thought she was going to drive from LA or something. And I happened to have Madeleine in kind of like an ERGObaby, you know, where the baby’s in the front.
YVES: And so I’m in my business suit with her in my ERGObaby and I was thinking I was just meeting with a regular sales rep so I didn’t think I needed to, you know, really overdo it. But she arrived, and she thought it was the cutest thing ever and 90% of our meeting was talking about the baby, and then the 10% was just closing the deal. But she had never – She said, never in my life have I seen an executive wear his baby to work.
AVANT: Well, there you go.
CAVANAUGH: That’s wonderful. Thanks for the phone call. It sounds like Madeleine has a great dad.
AVANT: Yeah, well, it’s interesting. I was reading an article I think in the Atlantic that made the point of saying that, you know, 70% of workers that have been affected by, you know, job downturns are men, which obviously makes a lot of sense. So, you know, in the case of guys like Yves and others and people like myself, I mean, this is not something that’s unusual. In fact, you know, history shows that every time there is a major downturn in the job market, you do tend to see a lot more companies being formed and entrepreneurs and things like that. And couple that with the ability that people have these days to work out of their home offices and to do things that are a little bit, you know, less traditional as far as a workspace, yeah, I mean, it’s coming – I don’t know that it’s going to be the norm but it’s certainly not going to be much of an exception anymore to have situations like his.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s hear another story. Monique is calling us from Carlsbad. Good morning, Monique. Welcome to These Days.
MONIQUE (Caller, Carlsbad): Hi. My name is Monique, and my husband and I job share our jobs, so 50% of the time one of us is at work and the other one is at home, and we alternate days of work. So we each understand each other’s day because we’ve each been at the same job or we’ve each been at home.
MONIQUE: And the children really like it because we have different priorities and different things that we think are important. So on the days that my husband is home, they spend time with him and they get to know him and they do the things that he thinks is important, and then the days that I’m home they spend time with me and they kind of focus on the things that I think are important so…
CAVANAUGH: I see.
MONIQUE: …it’s a really great scenario.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you something, Monique. Some of the mothers that I’ve talked to complain that while many dads can take care of the kids, the mothers still have to take care of the house when they come home. Is that the situation that you face?
MONIQUE: Well, we have like a schedule and we do it by – we’ve kind of bent the roles, you know, because I’ll mow the lawn and my husband will make dinner and he’ll do laundry and I might do the bills. It just depends on who does what each day. We really do pretty closely split the roles at home as well.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call, Monique. I really appreciate that. Is that housework thing still a problem with dads who are primary caregivers?
AVANT: Well, I know in my house it’s – we try to stay on top of the mess but I have a six-year-old and a two-year-old and I feel like half the time we’re fighting a losing battle.
AVANT: It’s like the western front in World War I, you know, nothing ever – nothing really ever changes. But, yeah, I mean, my wife and I, we do, you know, we try to divvy up the duties as best we can. I do most of the cooking, I do as much of the cleaning as is humanly possible and, again, I don’t – I think that’s more of a probably a misconception than anything else because, you know, when the mess does start to pile up, I mean, things need to get done and I would be very surprised if there was, you know, any work at home, father who would just kind of sit on the couch and, you know, put on the basketball game while his spouse or partner came home from, you know, 9 hours in an office and then immediately had to turn around and start picking up stuff. So…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, I’m going to speak for some of the ladies that I can hear out there. Oh, you’d be surprised. Now, but let me ask you, Jason, what is the hardest part of taking on this role of primary caregiver?
AVANT: I think for me it’s just been the kind of trying to maintain some kind of balance between obviously doing my work and as a writer, I’m lucky, I can pretty much work around the clock, and I often do. I’m usually up at about 5:30 in the morning putting together stuff for the, you know, the websites that I write for. I’m in the middle of putting together a book proposal, so there’s a lot of stuff that I have to do and I need peace and quiet to do that. And, generally speaking, once the kids are awake, you know, it’s hard to kind of – to do that without interruptions. I think, too, you know, when you go to a job, when you’re working out of a traditional office, you’re – you have much more opportunity to, you know, to compartmentalize your life. You can have your work time, your personal time, which is also really important, you know, you can go to the gym or, you know, do whatever other activities you like to do. And I think those – that gets to be much more difficult when you’re an at-home caregiver.
CAVANAUGH: Now you are really, really close to this whole transitional thing that we’re talking about here with your blog, DadCentric. How do you see the idea of parenthood evolving in the years to come?
AVANT: I definitely see it moving, excuse me, moving forward and I do see both parents becoming more equals in terms of the day-to-day stuff, the partnerships. I mean, obviously, there are things that women do that, you know, men cannot physically…
CAVANAUGH: Yes, umm-hmm.
AVANT: …but I do see that, you know, I do see a lot more of this idea that parents are equals and you are going to share equally in the mundane as well as the more, you know, exciting aspects of bringing their kids up.
CAVANAUGH: What are you doing for Father’s Day?
AVANT: I’m actually going to Los Angeles. My wife’s brother is in a band and they’re playing a show…
AVANT: …at the Hollywood Bowl so we’re loading up the kids and taking them to a rock concert.
CAVANAUGH: That’s cool.
AVANT: Which will be very cool, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: Very modern.
CAVANAUGH: Jason Avant, thanks so much.
AVANT: Thanks, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Jason Avant, founder and managing editor of the blog DadCentric. He lives with his wife and two young kids in Leucadia. If you’d like to comment about anything you’ve heard on These Days this morning, you can go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Thanks for listening. Stay with us for hour two right here on KPBS.