By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
It was a Saturday, and Roberto Clark was out with his 6-year-old daughter and 7-year-old twin sons. They hit the mall in Bethesda to pick up baseball caps and were headed to Dairy Queen for ice cream. Clark figured they would be out of the house half a day, a time to reconnect after a long week of work and school.
"The only way to really understand their lives is to hang out with them, talk with them, play with them," said Clark, a 36-year-old businessman from Frederick County who said he does not remember such "Daddy Time" from his own childhood, possibly because fathers were more often around the house.
In what is surely a sign of modern life, recent research shows that over the past four decades, fathers like Clark have nearly tripled the hours they spend focused on their children.
They still lag behind American mothers, who put in about twice as many hours directly involved with their children and doing housework. But, as researcher Suzanne M. Bianchi put it, today's fathers "do a lot more than their fathers did."
A comprehensive study of "time diaries" by researchers from the University of Maryland shows that fathers have increased their child-care work from 2.5 hours a week in 1965 to seven hours a week in 2003. There is a similar trend with housework: Dads did 4.4 hours a week in 1965 and 9.6 hours a week in 2003.
Perhaps even more striking, the total workloads of married mothers and fathers -- when paid work is added to child care and housework -- is roughly equal, at 65 hours a week for mothers and 64 hours for fathers.
"It's not the case that men are slugs," said William Doherty, a family studies professor at the University of Minnesota who has done several studies on fatherhood. "It's a new generation of fathers, and they are internalizing some of the very high expectations that mothers have."
Today, Doherty said, married fathers compare themselves to the example their wives set with children and housework -- not to what their own fathers did. Overall, he said, "there is definitely a shift, and I think it needs to be celebrated and not just compared to mothers."
In looking at why fathers are doing more than the generation before, Bianchi cited two important factors: their wives' work in paid jobs and a larger shift in what people expect of fathers.
In most families, though, one of the most notable gaps that remains is that mothers have more responsibility for organizing and orchestrating daily life, Doherty said.
Thinking about the generational change, Stuart Melnick, 44, said that it starts right at a baby's birth. In his father's era, he said, men stayed in the hospital waiting room and passed out cigars. Today, "every man I know" is in the delivery room, part of a child's life from the beginning.
Melnick, who has one son, said his involvement as a father is an economic reality, too. He and his wife are lawyers, and "my wife could not function if I didn't do much," he said. "You can't not be involved."
Even so, Melnick said, the workload is heavier on his wife. "I feel I do a lot," he said, "but it's nothing compared to what my wife does."
At Cabin John Park one recent Saturday, Chris Calhoun, 47, looked at the parents around him, following young children from swings to slides, laughing with them. Most were fathers -- perhaps two-thirds.
"This is the best thing that's ever happened to me," Calhoun said, gazing toward his 4-year-old son, Evan. His daughter, who is 2, was at home in Bethesda with her mom.
To make more time for his children, Calhoun structures his workdays around them as much as possible -- heading to his corporate real estate job in Fair Lakes for business hours, then coming home for a family dinner and time with the children from 5 to 8 p.m.
Once his children are in bed, he works again -- from 8 to 11 p.m.
"If we didn't have kids or if I was still single, I would be at the office until 8 at night," he said. But technology allows him to split his day -- and get in more kid time.
His wife, who has a part-time job outside the home, still does more child care and housework, which he wishes were not so, he said, but with a paid job that fills 60 hours a week, "I can't do more."
Thinking of generational differences, he recalls that he once mentioned to his father the joy of having a baby sleep on his chest.
"Did you do that with us?" he asked his father.
"No, I never did," he recalled his father saying.
As with mothers, roughly half of today's married fathers said they get too little time with their children. Their sense of well-being is not as affected by what they are missing, however, said Melissa A. Milkie, a social psychologist and co-author of the Maryland study who has written on the subject.
Several fathers interviewed volunteered that they do feel guilty about how much their wives do at home and how much time they miss with their children.
Clark said his workdays are often so long that he barely sees his children during the week. When he misses their events, "I feel guilty," he said. "I have dad guilt."
Recently, he said, he decided to correct course: taking one day a week to work from home. He takes his children to school that day and picks them up, then hangs out with them.
"You pick up so many little things about them," he said, "that you wouldn't know if you weren't there."