Attorney Mike Boulette challenges societal bias against millenial dads. Paternal leave policies may have changed, but he sees no change in deeply held beliefs that dads are primary breadwinners.
Millennial dads suck. Or hadn’t you heard? Clair Cain Miller, of the New York Time’s Upshot wrote that “millennial men aren’t the dads they thought they’d be,” while more recently, one of our own stuck the knife in a bit further in an Op-Ed for the L.A. Times, telling us to stop being hypocrites and starting leaning out. We work too much. We do too little. And when the opportunity comes to work part-time and devote more energy to family, we’re nowhere to be seen. For all our aspirations to egalitarianism, we’re starting to look like our own dads.
I have a confession to make. I’m one of those dads. I turned 30 this year, and more weeknights than not I’m at work or a professional engagement rather than putting my two year old to bed. My first day back to work after her birth and three weeks of paternity leave, I worked until 1 a.m. This year, I’ll miss her birthday, though not her party, for a professional conference. Because I’m not at home all day, my wife does more chores, more childcare, more cooking, more of everything. I apologize to her almost every day.
But this isn’t that sort of apology. The word apology has its origins in the Greek apologia roughly translated as “a speech in one’s own defense.” With all the flack millennial dads are taking lately, I’m here to offer an apologia.
It’s worth taking a moment to remember the world in which today’s young fathers came of age. We learned about money during the Clinton-era boom, when anyone with an internet connection and an E*Trade account could clear $1000 day-trading some now-defunct tech stock. Our parents were of the helicopter variety, though perhaps hovered at a slightly higher altitude than today’s parents. Yet, when the time came for us to forge into the world, we emerged into a landscape that looked nothing like that of our parents.
For one, student debt took a nearly mortgage-sized bite out of our paychecks. In many cases, entry-level jobs paying a living wage were replaced with the ubiquitous unpaid internship, and the promise that there might eventually be a paycheck. Even though mortgage rates were at historic lows, few of us could buy homes while struggling under huge debt burdens. And when finally, a we were stable and mature enough to start a family, our welcome-to-parenthood was a childcare bill that rivaled college tuition.
Enter the millennial dad. We were to value egalitarian marriages and be equal parents. No more the breadwinner-homemaker; we would to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners through the first and second shifts. Not only was there a will, there was a way, with more companies offering paid leave for fathers, flextime schedules, and family-friendly work environments. Or that was the story.
Because as far as we’ve come, gendered notions of parenthood die hard. For all our millennial optimism, we’ve found ourselves in a world in which, empirical data to the contrary, fatherhood is still conflated with providing. Where society perceives our value as parents and as partners primarily in economic terms, while relegating our care giving to sitcom punch lines. We so seldom talk about working fathers because the concept is almost redundant. Of course fathers work. What other purpose would we serve?
But, for all the advances in family-friendly workplaces, providing is for one’s family is harder now than ever. Gendered parenting bias undermines paternal leave and flextime policies intended to let millennial dads parent with freedom and autonomy. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported: “Many men choosing to work part time say they find themselves explaining and renegotiating their schedules or fighting the impression that they aren’t committed to their careers, an experience that can be isolating and stigmatizing.”
Managers, supervisors, and co-workers don’t accept “I have to parent” as an excuse from working late, especially from young fathers without seniority or clout. We are expected to be on the 6:30 p.m. conference call regardless of when daycare closes; surely our wives pick up the children. Even family-friendly workplaces, such as mine, cannot control clients, vendors, and customers who don’t accept that fathers, have childcare responsibilities that sometimes take priority over their professional obligations.
The issue is bigger than one family or one company or one industry. It won’t be solved by a new parental leave policy at Netflix or Microsoft. Yahoo’s decision on telecommuting will have no impact on this national issue. If millennial dads, and moms for that matter, are going to live out our egalitarian values, we have to stop expecting this is a matter of personal responsibility or individual choices—of leaning in or leaning out. Likewise, we have to broaden discussions of corporate policy and culture, and start talking about American policy and American culture.
Perhaps the biggest of these discussions is in the role we ascribe to fathers. We need to stop viewing dads primarily as breadwinners while pinch-hitting as bumbling second-class caregivers, and we need to take seriously the demands parenting places on both parents. We need, in short, to start taking millennial dads, all dads really, seriously.
Not incidentally, taking millennial dads seriously is just as significant for millennial moms in workplaces where having it all remains de rigueur. Because, only when we give credence to the idea that both parents have significant caretaking responsibilities will we stop penalizing mothers while economically rewarding fathers.
Millennial dad’s know the kind of parents we want to be. Now let us.
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