Today’s Dads Have Changed Since Days of Ward Cleaver

(Originally appeared in The Beach Reporter newspaper in Manhattan Beach, CA.)

It used to be a lot easier for dads. They used to disappear at 7:00 a.m., reappear at 5:00 p.m. for a drink and dinner, eat their steak and potatoes, and dole out the day’s punishment. They wouldn’t be caught dead in a labor and delivery room, and never heard of Lamaze. They might never have changed a diaper, ironed a shirt, or made their own lunch.

They made the big decisions in family life, like who gets to pick the TV shows. Most people only had one TV, so this was a big deal. I learned most of my negotiating skills during those nightly TV battles: “I’ll do the dishes for you for the next four nights if I can watch The Monkees.” But mostly it was Dad who decided: “If you don’t all shut up, that TV is going out the window.”
All dads went to work, but mostly we didn’t know what they did. Moms stayed home, made endless batches of Rice Krispie marshmallow bars and went crazy. Some moms worked, but it was usually only when money got tight.

Dads were supposed to be gruff and rough and tough. They didn’t talk about getting in touch with their feelings. They did what they had to do and made the best of it. Many of them grew up during the Depression, and that left them with a set of values that translated into hard work and don’t use credit. Above all, dads never cried.

So how are today’s dads different? Well, they still work all day, although Mom might be at work also. Because of this they have had to shift their responsibilities and priorities a little. Most of them can make a decent omelet and run a vacuum.

Ward Cleaver came home to a home-cooked dinner waiting on the table. June was freshly coiffed and wearing a perfectly-ironed shirtdress. Wally and the Beav needed his advice on some horrendous problem they had faced that day. (“Gee, Dad, what should you do if you borrowed someone’s bike and put a dent in the fender?”)

Today’s dad might have his spouse out on a business trip. He might have to take Sally to soccer practice and Sam to the dentist. He might have to cook dinner or stop for pizza. If Sally’s report on the Amazon was due tomorrow he would have to help her focus. So much for the basketball game.

Today’s dad has not only seen the birth of his children, he has participated in preparation for their birth. He has cut short business meetings to get to Lamaze class. He cried when his children were born, out of love and awe and fear. He can eat a bean burrito with one hand while changing a diaper with the other.

Today’s dad doesn’t want to make all the decisions. He realizes it’s best if everyone in the family has a voice. He may still be unmoving on certain issues (“If you’re not home by 11;00, you’re grounded.”) But today’s dad has a lot more to worry about than a dented bicycle fender. He has to worry about drugs, and how to talk to his daughter about Stranger Danger.

Dads now will wear, and even help make the ridiculous costumes for YMCA Indian Princesses. Seeing these dads makes me think that this is exactly how they want things to be.


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