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Jewish World Review
April 18, 2007
/ 1 Iyar, 5767
No time like Father Time
There's no question that, compared with previous generations, today's dads are much more involved in their kids' lives.
My research into American family life suggests that during the '60s and '70s, fathers' only real child-rearing responsibilities involved mediating unresolved disputes among the children, and then sometimes offering a wry, knowing comment before the credits rolled. I should note here that "my research" consists primarily of the thousands of hours I spent in childhood watching reruns of "Leave it to Beaver," "The Brady Bunch" and "Father Knows Best."
But while dads today are assuming greater child-care responsibilities, we're still a long way from sharing parenting duties equally with moms. According to one recent survey, the average American father still only spends seven minutes a day of "quality time" with his children. To put this number in context, the same American father spends more than an hour per day managing his fantasy baseball team. And that's in the offseason.
After handling 100 percent of carrying and birthing the children, moms might expect to take it easy for a while. But no, for the most part mothers are still responsible for the vast majority of feeding, clothing, bathing and potty training the kids, not to mention providing homework help, shuttling them to and from activities and berating dad for not helping more with the kids.
Meanwhile, on those rare occasions when dad grudgingly agrees to change a diaper ("number one" only, of course), he will typically emerge from the baby's room expecting the same sort of adulation the French showered on the allied troops liberating Paris in World War II.
Still, just seven minutes? Dads have to do better than that. After all, studies consistently show that a father's involvement is important for childhood development in critical areas like self-esteem, academic performance and the ability to make disgusting noises with a range of body parts.
I should note that these findings are often disputed, mainly by the National Association of Deadbeat Dads (NADD). I contacted the NADD headquarters for comment but only got an outgoing answering machine message stating the organization had moved, leaving no forwarding address, then adding, "And you ain't got no proof that baby's mine!"
My feeling is that the best way to encourage fathers to spend more quality time with their kids is simply to redefine "quality time." For example, many dads these days object to reading to children, mainly because books like "Fuzzy, the Cute Little Fluffy Bunny, Makes a Friend" get a little predictable sometime around the 8,000th go-through. So instead, why not read them material you're more interested in, like the sports pages? Or better yet, a book with genuinely educational value such as "21 Insider's Tips To Picking Racehorses?"
My hope is that by taking this approach, other dads will eventually start spending less time on non-kid-related activities and make their children the top priority in their lives. Because, frankly, that's the only way my fantasy baseball team is going anywhere this year.
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JWR contributor Malcolm Fleschner is a humor columnist for The DC Examiner. Let him know what you think by clicking here.
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© 2006, Malcolm Fleschner