Perhaps you’ve seen them on the playground. At pre-school drop off, karate practice, or piano lessons. Pushing strollers or running after toddlers. Or even on the small screen, in TV shows like Up All Night. They are: The stay-at-home dads, and lately, it seems, they’re everywhere.
Once upon a time, disengaged, distant fathers represented the typical pop-culture paternal stereotype (think: Mad Men’s Don Draper). Later, that image was replaced by the well meaning but bumbling—“where does this diaper go again?”—dad (think: Three Men And a Baby). Now, a new 21st century dad has emerged, and he’s not only competently taking care of the kids, he’s putting his own spin on parenting.
The latest Census shows that 32 percent of dads regularly care for their children (up from 26 percent in 2002), and among those with preschool-age kids, one in five dads is the primary caregiver. In households where mom works, that figure rises to nearly one in three. (In fact, my own husband currently stays at home full-time with our two-year-old daughter.) Stay-at-home dads have become so ubiquitous, even toy manufacturers like Mattel are catering to them.
A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research takes a look at this new model of modern dad-hood, and finds that today’s full-time fathers aren’t trying to be “Mr. Moms”—instead, they’re carving out their own unique roles as parents. “Many men are building this alternative model of home life that is outdoorsy, playful and more technology-oriented,” Gokcen Coskuner-Balli, an assistant professor of marketing at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and lead author of the study, told the Wall Street Journal.
I spoke with some seasoned stay-at-home dads, who agreed that their parenting style tends to be more rough-and-tumble. “I do let the kids take more risks on the playground, whereas my wife tends to get nervous that they’ll fall and hurt themselves,” says Kyle, 39, an artist who has been a full-time parent since his oldest child was born 10 years ago. “I’m also more likely to get them involved in DIY projects. Last weekend they helped me build three tables for my art studio at home.”
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