Father’s Day present worth unwrapping

Millions of men will wake up Sunday to handmade cards, neckties, and, maybe, a new electronic gadget. It’s Father’s Day 2016, a time to acknowledge dear old Dad. But beyond this increasingly commercialized day of purchasing manly presents lies a deeper, more important question: where is fatherhood in the U.S. going today?

Answers can be found in the “State of America’s Fathers,” a new report advocating increasing both the visibility and value of dads caring for children. Using never-before analyzed data and rolling out an ambitious set of policy recommendations, the report advocates a host of improved policies and programs for parents - particularly for the most vulnerable fathers and families. 

In addition, the report can influence policymakers to throw their support behind a fatherhood revolution, transforming how fathers are viewed in families.

The State of America’s Fathers links increased support for fathers as caregivers to a comprehensive strategy to advance equality and social justice and to improve overall family well being. The report’s comprehensive approach begins with a focus on diversity and equality, offering a wide spectrum of ideas to achieve work-life balance.

Fathers in the United States are certainly more involved in their children’s lives than in previous generations; deepening their commitment to gender equality and healthy child development - as well as promoting economic strength nationally - will mean helping to insure a funded, effective fatherhood movement in the years ahead.

Some are calling what is happening a “fatherhood revolution.” 

More fathers and father figures are doing - and are expected to do - more of the childcare and housework than in previous generations. 

Harnessed effectively, the report suggests that a movement of involved fathers “has the power to advance gender equality, improve childhood development outcomes, and raise the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by several hundred billion dollars.” 

How? By championing women to work outside the home at the same rate as do men. Despite achievements to date, the report concludes that the U.S. is not doing enough to support or advance the movement - in part because until now there has never before been a clear or accurate national picture of the state of U.S. fatherhood.

The report reveals that the fatherhood revolution is a highly unequal one. A tale of two fathers cuts across socioeconomic lines. 

At one end, society increasingly encourages upper middle- and upper-income fathers to be highly engaged with their children - with many Fortune 500 companies offering the paid parental leave to back this up. 

On the other end, low-income dads have the least access to paid leave in the country: Ninety-five percent of low-wage workers do not have the option of taking paid family leave through their employers’ policies for the birth of a child, or to care for a seriously ill family member. 

One aspect which unites across lines is the inability for parents to find work-life balance: the majority of parents (59 percent) who work full time, and 74 percent of those who work overtime feel that they do not spend enough time with their children.

The State of America’s Fathers also found that today children in the U.S. are more likely than ever to live outside of traditional, two-parent, heterosexual households. Coupled with three other factors - the decline of marriage, increased cohabitation, and divorce no longer being as highly stigmatized - means that the “traditional” family is no longer in the majority. As many as half of all children in the U.S. now spend some portion of their childhood years living in single-parent households. 

Over the last three decades fathers in the U.S. have increased the time they spend with their children during the workday by nearly a third - to 65 percent. Both men and women are more interested in sharing childcare responsibilities than ever - and only a minority of men - less than half  (40 percent) agree that “men should earn money and women should take care of the home and the family.” 

In addition, despite a pervasive stigma of nonresident fathers as absent fathers - or worse, “deadbeat dads” - research also shows that most nonresident fathers are consistently very active in the lives of their children. 

The report concludes that both women and men will benefit from policies and efforts that encourage fathers to realize their roles as fully engaged, fully equal caregivers. 

Nevertheless, among high-income nations the U.S. is alone in guaranteeing no paid leave to new parents. In addition, 40 percent of workers are ineligible for the 12 weeks of unpaid leave offered under the Family and Medical Leave Act. 

The report also says that extreme rates of incarceration and high child support demands on low-income fathers underscore a need to reframe the conversation on economically marginalized nonresident fathers’ contributions to their children’s lives.

“What our report and our new data show is this: women and men want the policies and the support so that all parents can be full-on, fully engaged, fully equal caregivers,” said Gary Barker, International Director and founder of Promundo. “…Implementing paid leave is far less costly than often thought; and when implemented alongside income support to low-income fathers and parents, these policies pay for themselves in increased productivity and happier, healthier families. What are we waiting for?”      

 
- Rob Okun is a psychotherapist practicing in Amherst, Mass., and the editor of Voice Male, a national magazine chronicling the transformation of masculinity. He writes for PeaceVoice.

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