A good case can probably be made that the last thing America needs is another parenting guide. (And, please, no more movie versions of them.)
But, pediatrician and father of three David L. Hill would beg to differ.
Hill thinks a crucial audience has been left out of all the advice trading: dads.
The book raises the question: Are dads really so different from moms that they need their own parenting lessons?
I posed the question to Hill, who explained why he thinks so. We also talked about his varied personal experience and, more generally, how the current culture of fathering is changing the general nature of parenting.
Below, excerpts from our Q&A:
What inspired you to write the book?
My wife and I met during our medical training, and we pledged to have one of those marriages where we both worked equally hard inside and outside of the home, the misleadingly-named “hedonic marriage.” When she graduated and started work, I stayed home for several months with our kids, a job that I found harder than practicing medicine. As our roles flip-flopped over the years I found myself as the sole breadwinner, part of a two-working-parent family, and, finally, a single parent with shared custody of three children.
Each of these roles brought its own unique challenges, and I took those challenges to the driveway, where six dads from our cul-de-sac hang out all weekend watching our kids, talking, and trading power tools. This book is my attempt to invite every dad into that driveway to share in the contemplation, the support, and the laughter we have given each other.
With so many parenting guides on the market, why do new dads need their own guide?
Dads and moms face many of the same challenges in raising children, but we approach those challenges in different ways. Dads have their own communication style, and many books don’t really speak to us. Dad To Dad covers all of childhood, from birth to adolescence. It does address social and developmental issues, but most of the chapters help dads handle basic medical problems like ear aches, vomiting and fever.
What is some of the specific, practical advice that differs from a general/mother-oriented manual?
As a single father I wanted to cover stuff that women know but most men don’t. For example, how do you safely change a baby girl’s diaper? When is your little girl too old to use the men’s room? How do you buy your daughter her first bra? What are the differences in the various feminine hygiene products? I also address the sense of isolation that involved fathers can feel everywhere from the grocery store to the PTA meeting.
What do dads, in general, bring to parenting that differs from moms?
As you might expect, dads tend to play and explore the world more than moms. We focus more on risk-taking and problem-solving. We also have a big influence on our children’s gender identities. People may be surprised to learn that dads also engage their kids in a lot of deep talks and that discipline styles don’t differ that much between dads and moms.
Are the increasing number of stay-at-home dads changing the overall parenting landscape?
I can see changes just in my own pediatric office, where more and more dads are bringing their children on their own. Family law is responding to the trend; divorce courts are replacing the potentially insulting term “visitation” with the more accurate, “parenting plan.” In the world of entertainment, shows like [Disney Junior’s] “Doc McStuffins” and movies like “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” are featuring dads who do more than burn the toast. Best of all, I think fathers are finding it easier to tap into support networks that mothers have enjoyed for most of history.
Any other thoughts you have for dads, especially those celebrating their first Father’s Day this year?
I would encourage dads to embrace their competence at all aspects of child care. Plenty of sitcoms and commercials still tell us that we’re not up to simple tasks like changing diapers or kissing boo-boos. But we’re doing those things and a lot more. The only people who benefit from this trend more than our kids are dads ourselves.