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Clueless Dads? Not Anymore

July 22, 2008

By Kellie B. Gormly, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 22–Carmon Rinehart of the South Side is in dad-to-be training.

He is attending birthing classes at Magee-Womens Hospital with his wife, Susie, who is expected to deliver a baby girl on Aug. 20. He is reading several books about pregnancy and child care, going to midwife appointments with Susie, and making sure she gets the right nutrition.

“I’ll be an equal parenting partner,” says Carmon Rinehart, 38.

These days, many fathers are more engaged with their kids and involved with child care, compared with previous generations. In the past, child care was left to moms as dads went to work to be the breadwinners of the family. Today’s fathers often are more involved with their children at all ages, beginning with the prenatal phase; dads-to-be usually accompany their wives to doctor’s appointments, attend how-to classes on baby care with them, and accompany them in the delivery room, rather than pass out cigars in the waiting room.

They even have a plethora of books aimed directly at them in simple-to-understand terms that relate to a man’s world. One book compares the size of an unborn baby at 8 months into the pregnancy to a football.

The change is “driven by the feelings of men today that they missed something with their own father,” says Greg Bishop. He is the founder and head coach of the Irvine, Calif.-based Dads Adventure company, which provides “Boot Camp for New Dads” workshops around the country.

“They don’t want their child to miss that, and they don’t want to miss it, either, as a father,” Bishop says.

According to a University of Maryland study, the typical dad devotes 6.5 hours per week to his kids. That’s not as much as mom’s 13 hours, but it’s more than double the time fathers spent with children 30 years ago. The same study says the amount of father-child bonding time shot up 65 percent from 1995 to 2000.

In some ways, modern dads — many of whom have wives who work full time, rather than stay home with the children — “re-define manhood,” and play a vital role in their children’s lives, says Bob Brinker. He is a parent and community educator of Greensburg-based ParentWISE — a program of Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, which is a regional organization based in Harmar.

“When children have an actively involved father, they get to experience the world through the eyes of the mother and the father,” Brinker says. “The more a father or mother does with a child, the more the child is going to be attached.”

Chris Male, a New Kensington dad, went to several classes with his wife, Laura, about child care before his two kids — Steven, 9, and Keith, 7 — were born. Now, he spends a lot of time with his kids, by walking the dog together, taking them to the zoo and fishing, taking them to scouting meetings, and just enjoying everyday activities.

“I really enjoy them; we have a lot of fun together,” says Male, 44. “I feel like this is what I should do. … Having kids makes your life 10 times harder, but 100 times better.”

The societal change — fueled by women’s desires and expectations for a more egalitarian partnership — has been evolving for the past few decades, but in recent years, it’s been “changing pretty rapidly,” says author David Port.

“While there are still a lot of messages of the old-school approach — Mom does most of the hands-on stuff, and Dad springs into action in his areas of specialties — the old school is giving way to the new school,” Port says. He is the co-author of “The Caveman’s Pregnancy Companion: A Survival Guide For Expectant Fathers” and “Caveman’s Guide to Baby’s First Year: Early Fatherhood for the Modern Hunter-Gatherer.”

The response to the books — basically a man’s version of the best-sellers “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel and “What to Expect the First Year” by Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg and Sandee Hathaway — has been great, Port says.

“We come at it from a different sort of perspective,” Port says. He and his wife, Emily, have two daughters: Jane, 5, and Lila, 2. “Our goal is to get our dads more engaged in the parenting process and more engaged as a full-blown partner. … The more engaged a guy is in both pregnancy and with the baby … the more I think he’s going to take away.

“Most dads acknowledge that they may know a lot about a lot of different things, but when it comes to babies, particularly the first time around … a lot of guys are cavemen,” Port says. “It can be pretty intimidating thing. I think guys are smart to acknowledge that maybe, at times, they’re in over their heads, and sometimes cavemen, when it comes to the knowledge and insight needed to be a good partner and a good parent.”

Emily DeFerrari, a certified nurse midwife with Magee-Womens Hospital, says couples form deeper bonds when the husband takes an active role in the pregnancy and birth process, although it can be intimidating for him.

Husbands often say, “I love her so much more now because I’ve seen what she’s gone through. After I see what she has been able to do, I have so much more respect and deep love for her,” DeFerrari says.

Several parenting classes — either for dads specifically, or attended often by dads — are offered through area hospitals and other organizations. For instance, ParentWISE teams up with the National Fatherhood Initiative to offer “Dr. Dad” classes. The daylong classes, offered a few times a year, teach fathers about first aid and caring for sick children.

Pat Doyle — a new dad from Delmont, Westmoreland County — went to weekly classes on baby care with his wife, Shelby, for the month before their daughter, Cara, was born on June 9. Now, Doyle, 33, says he is glowing in his new role, and loves spending time with his girl.

When Shelby went to the hospital to give birth, Pat Doyle stayed in her room for two nights on a reclining chair.

“My dad was sort of surprised by that,” Doyle says. “He said, ‘I never did that.’”

McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report.

In his terms

In the book “The Caveman’s Pregnancy Companion: A Survival Guide for Expectant Fathers” (Sterling, $12.95 paperback) by authors David Port and John Ralston, one chart describes the nine months of fetal development, and gives advice and insight for that period in terms guys can understand. Following is an excerpt from that chart.

First month: The baby is the size of a ladybug. Caveman needs to quit smoking cold turkey.

Second month: The baby is the size of a grape. Sexual activity for the couple will fall off, and caveman’s nesting instinct kicks in.

Third month: The baby is the size of a golf-club head. Caveman starts planning those home projects.

Fourth month: The baby is the size of a softball. Sexual relations with the couple improve, and caveman’s protective instincts surge.

Fifth month: The baby is the size of a coconut. Caveman has his first mental breakdown, and couple enrolls in parenting classes.

Six months: The baby is the size of a trout. The couple is too pooped for sex most of the time.

Seven months: The baby is the size of a pot roast. Caveman takes last “man” trip for the foreseeable future.

Eight months: The baby is the size of a football. Caveman plans the route to the hospital, and practices his bedside manner.

Nine months: The baby is the size of a baby. Couple gets serious about baby names, packs bag for the hospital and prepares birth announcements.

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