They just don't make fathers like they used to

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In the mid-’70s, my husband changed diapers and fed the babies; he cooked pancakes, and learned how to bathe, dress and talk a 2-year-old into taking cough medicine. When we got married in 1968, I didn’t know he could do any of those things, and he probably didn’t, either. I knew nothing about children, but I figured it was my job to learn. He and I thought we’d have one kind of marriage, with separate and distinct responsibilities, then along came Betty (Friedan) and Gloria (Steinem), and before you knew it, all the rules had changed. Fathering, circa 1950, was no longer acceptable.

The dads I know best today are my son and my son-in-law. I do believe that if they had wombs, they could pop out a kid. These guys do everything their wives do, except with hairy legs and impressive pecs.

From the day his first child was born, my son was all-in, from cutting the umbilical cord in the O.R., to getting up at night for feedings, to banishing nightmares for his toddlers, to talking over “mean girl” problems with the 10-year-old.

My son-in-law often watches his little kids for a week at a time while my daughter travels for work. Both of these men are nurturers, building strong emotional ties with their kids.

When my mom and her siblings would cry, my grandfather would say, “I’ll give you something to cry about,” and it would usually be the back of his hand. Nowadays, many dads are less physical and more emotive. They listen. They’re a different species from the dad in the stiff collar who raised his children in the 1930s as if they were uncivilized creatures who needed to be housebroken.

Personally, I wouldn’t have the patience to make my kids’ pancakes into octopus shapes before rushing out to work, but my son-in-law does. Not that he and my son don’t lose it with the kids from time to time, but they respect their children’s feelings in a way that fathers of earlier generations simply did not.

Long-ago fathers weren’t bad men; they just didn’t know any better. Convention demanded that they remain somewhat distant and emotionally constrained. The olden-day dads shouldered the burden of supporting their families, a lonely, lifelong effort that made many of these men reluctant to show any vulnerability.
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