The Hands-on Dad

From childcare to carpool, dads are shouldering more kid duties today

Eighteen-month-old Parker Swearingen is learning that dads and moms can be caregivers. Part of Michael's routine is taking Parker to the playground.

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The gradual emergence of the hands-on dad — one who shares the responsibility in changing diapers, feedings and baths for babies, and makes time to be a part of an older child’s school programs or just plays video games with them — began in the mid-1970s when James Levine, Ph.D., published his book, Who Will Raise the Children? New Options for Fathers (and Mothers) in 1974.

Levine, as director of The Fatherhood Project for the Families and Work Institute in New York from 1989 to 2002, suggested that fathers would need to take a more active role in the raising of their children for women’s equality to work, that boys and girls would need to be raised to reflect these evolving roles, and that institutions would have to adopt progressive sociological changes.

“When women became more involved in the workforce, and fathers were acknowledged by academics such as Levine, ‘fatherhood’ became the new phenomenon,” says Elizabeth Harris, a clinical psychologist who works with children and families. “The space was created for fathers to be more involved; there were the beginnings of paternity leave from corporations and the relationship of more day-to-day duties began being assigned and claimed by fathers.”



For some fathers, like Todd Treible,  42, a single dad raising a 10-year-old daughter alone, there is no other option. Chloe’s mother lives in Europe and all duties — from entertainment to discipline — fall to him. But it’s a bond he treasures; “She turns to me when she needs help or assistance; I think I’m her comfort zone, her rock that she turns to when she has an issue,” says Treible.

An active presence in our children’s lives is part of teaching, whether overt or not. Children glean lessons of responsibility and social expectations from parents as a matter of course, and it’s time spent with them that affords such moments.

“Fathers typically had the ‘Cosby moments’ role of teaching the life lessons, coaching sports and providing a model of providing for the family,” says Harris. “Now they can spend the real quality time of doing homework with their children, participating in school activities, taking their children to the doctors. Activities that, while not as much fun as going to the zoo or the park, are the fabric of life and that build the closeness between the child and the parent.”

“I appreciate being a daily part of her life because you get to see the little things, the everyday stuff that happens that you laugh about,” Treible says. “You don’t necessarily get that if you’re there every other weekend or not as frequently.”


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