The evo­lu­tion of new dads

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

I t’s been a hell of a year for Sam McKendry. In his NRL come­back game from a knee re­con­struc­tion in Fe­bru­ary, the big Pan­thers prop hurt his knee again. He had missed most of last sea­son and Fe­bru­ary’s mis­for­tune took care of this one. Para­dox­i­cally it’s been the best year of his life.

Last Au­gust, McKendry and wife Kirsten wel­comed their daugh­ter Isla and just a few weeks ago added baby Isaac to their fam­ily.

So be­ing on the side­lines from his day job has meant McKendry could be front and cen­tre for his life job.

“The only pos­i­tive thing about this in­jury is that I have been spend­ing more time with the kids,” he says.

McKendry, 28, is very much a 21st cen­tury dad. Like most dads he would do any­thing for his kids. And that means get­ting the hands dirty.

“I was pretty ex­cited to be a dad — I went along to the classes,” he says.

“And I don’t mind chang­ing a nappy but I can’t re­ally re­mem­ber my old man do­ing that.”

Things have changed. Dads are out, proud and get­ting in­volved in ways pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions didn’t.

“I think it’s coming from two ends,” says par­ent­ing ex­pert, au­thor and Win Win Par­ent­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive Dr Rosina McAlpine.

“There has cer­tainly been an in­crease in dads get­ting in­volved and I think it’s be­cause of that idea that at the end of your life you don’t want to have any doubts about how you spent your time, and so dads are re­flect­ing on that.”

She points to the 1974 Harry Chapin song Cat’s In The Cra­dle about a dad too busy to spend time with his son as epit­o­mis­ing a con­cern among men raised in the 1970s and ’80s. “They think, ‘Well that’s how it was with me and my fa­ther and I don’t want to be like that with my chil­dren.’ ”

Kiama fa­ther-of-two Shane Ar­rold is a case in point. The 45-yearold has a son, 6, and daugh­ter, 4, and re­mem­bers his 1970s child­hood in­volv­ing a very dif­fer­ent kind of re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther than the one he en­joys with his kids now.

“My dad went off at 7am and then go back at seven at night,” he says. “I never wanted to be that guy who never had time to spend with his chil­dren and that is some­thing I felt very strongly about. If we aren’t there for our kids then what are we do­ing it for?”

He’s not alone, says As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Richard Fletcher from the Univer­sity of New­cas­tle’s Fam­ily Ac­tion Cen­tre.

“It’s not as though they love their chil­dren any more than pre­vi­ous dads, but they do want more, they want more con­nec­tion,” he says.

Fletcher has re­searched fa­ther­hood for 30 years and notes that women’s in­creased work­force par­tic­i­pa­tion, for ex­am­ple, means men are ex­pected to take on a more hands-on par­ent­ing role, but their own expectations have changed too. S ome­times, how­ever, the rest of so­ci­ety takes time to catch up. Fletcher notes the 2012 with­drawal of a US Hug­gies ad that de­picted a sport-watch­ing dad ne­glect­ing his nappy-chang­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Wide­spread out­rage from Amer­i­can dads soon saw that de­pic­tion dis­patched to the dust­bin of his­tory.

And in­ner west early learn­ing cen­tre owner Rob Yel­don sees this new ap­proach first-hand ev­ery day.

I don’t mind chang­ing a nappy ... I can’t re­ally re­mem­ber my old man do­ing that

He has a 19-year-old daugh­ter from his first mar­riage, and now has sons aged four and seven, but has seen fa­ther­hood evolve in the men he meets through his ToBeMe early learn­ing cen­tres in Bur­wood and Five Dock.

“Of­ten both mum and dad are work­ing, and it’s not al­ways that mum has more flex­i­bil­ity than dad, and so dads do tend to have a more ac­tive role in the kids grow­ing up,’ he says.

“At ToBeMe at least half the kids are be­ing dropped off by dads and go­ing back even 10 years I don’t think you would have seen that.”

And those dads aren’t a pas­sive taxi ser­vice, they want to know ex­actly what the lit­tle ones have been up to.

“It is a very ac­tive process when a fa­ther picks up a child,” Yel­don says.

Be­sides expectations, the sup­port onn of­fer has evolved too. All Aussie em­ploy­ees are en­ti­tled to some kind of f parental leave, men are en­cour­aged to come to classes and half of McAlpine’s Win Win par­ent­ing ses­sions are men.

“One talk I did re­cently, there were ac­tu­ally more men than women and that’s the first time I’ve seen that.”

But she has a word of warn­ing. Now w dads are in­volved, it can mean new con­ver­sa­tions about par­ent­ing — it’s not just the mother’s do­main.

“If a fa­ther is step­ping up, then mums also need to take a step back andd let dads do it their way,” she says.

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