The evolution of new dads
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.