(DETROIT) — For Warren Flood, having his son, Malcolm, changed the course of his life.
Prior to becoming a dad, Flood, who is 43, worked in consulting and described the business model as “trading hours for dollars.”
“My friends told me, ‘Don’t worry about it. You have all the time in the world. They’re not even cool until they turn 2 or 3,’” he said.
But once Malcolm, who is now 23 months old, came into the picture, the “father genes kicked in right away,” and Flood decided that he wanted to be as present as possible.
“It’s a cliché that kids change your life but they really do,” said Flood, who now works as the corporate affairs manager for Microsoft in Detroit. “So, he broke my business model.”
“I did not want to travel. I did not want to be away,” he said. “I wanted to have that level of stability, and change our lifestyle.”
The face of fatherhood has changed
There are roughly 75 million fathers in the U.S., and according to experts, the institution of fatherhood has never looked more different. Blended families are common, extended family members might share a household and there is a significant number of single dads as well — about 1.8 million.
“When we think of the classic dad’s model, it tends to look very 1950s simple households,” Lindsay Monte, a family demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau, said in a phone interview.
“In this data, we see much more diversity of households in terms of the men and the children with whom they live,” she added.
Molly Martin, an associate professor of sociology and demography at Penn State University, says the idea of family that comes from the 1950s represented more of an anomaly than a long-term trend.
“While we kind of think of it as the good old days, it’s a really weird historical point in American family history,” Martin said.
But while less traditional family models are no longer outside the norm, that can complicate daily life too.
It’s “more complicated in the sense that you may have children with more than one woman, you may not be co-residential with your children, and so making meaning and making those relationships work for everybody is more complicated,” Martin said.
Parenting has changed, and with it, fatherhood has too
Rather than relying on their own parents for advice, there are now endless troves of data online, advice columns and parenting books that offer “best practices” to modern fathers.
One piece of advice that’s commonly offered? Eat dinner with your kids. Studies have shown that kids benefit from eating dinner with their parents.
According to Census data released earlier this week, about 75 percent of men who live with kids under 18 years of age eat dinner with the children 5 to 7 nights a week.
“Research has found that parents eating dinner with their children is associated with a range of benefits for children, including expanded vocabulary, fewer behavior problems, and lower likelihood of substance abuse among teenagers,” Monte said in a news release from the Census Bureau.
And while all that advice can be helpful, it can also translate into pressure to be perfect.
“The overwhelming part, the part that I struggle with the most, is still trying to find that balance between providing a stable financial, financially successful life and household with the tradeoff of spending time away,” Flood said.
But Flood said the feeling of being prepared as a father is elusive.
“It never feels as if you’re fully prepared, but had I known just how much fun and enjoyment the hard times and the good times, and just how fulfilling being a father was, I wouldn’t have waited as long as I did,” he said.
“I think often times men feel the pressure or the need to have everything in life sorted out, you know the good job, the finances sorted out and all that, that we often put up false pressures on ourselves or false expectations that we think we need to meet before we’re fully prepared to be a parent,” Flood said. “But I definitely wouldn’t have waited as long had I known what I know now.”
More pressure, but more valued
Ronald Levant, the former president of the American Psychological Association and a professor emeritus at the University of Akron’s department of psychology, said that the role of the dad has changed significantly over the years.
He said he has noticed a greater closeness with children in younger fathers.
Levant said this is apparent in the “intimacy of care,” and said that children now see “their dads as someone they can talk to.”
“What I am seeing is that this greater involvement and hands on parenting and greater emotional intimacy with their kids,” he said.
Flood said, in his experience, it’s relatively easy these days to talk about being a father and he thinks today’s world is more accepting and open about fatherhood, which leads it to be seen in a more positive light.
Marc Taylor is the director for the federally funded program TRUE Dads, an organization that works with younger fathers who have young children.
“The one thing that is encouraging to me is that… people are understanding how valuable fathers are now,” Taylor said.
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