I'm Finding A Ray of Hope In An Unexpected Place
By Allan Shedlin
KFDFF Co-Director and Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group
We are living during a time when just as we feel “the other shoe has dropped,” more shoes present themselves, awaiting their turn. It’s a time when the earth seems to spin ever faster and less steadily on its axis. I find myself searching for rays of hope in a world that seems closer to spiraling out of control, as man-made and natural disasters proliferate.
During a moment when so much seems beyond our control, I’ve looked for areas in which we have at least a modicum of control. That’s where I’ve been looking for a ray of hope. And I’ve found one in an unexpected place: the increased involvement of fathers with their kids. Grasping this as a sign of hopefulness may seem like a stretch, but if there ever was a time when we needed to stretch for hopeful new perspectives, it is now.
Let me explain (once again).
If we were asked to associate a gender with the words “war” and “aggression,” most of us would assign male. But we are in the throes of an accidental and silent social evolution that is redefining what it means to be masculine, spear-headed by an increase of involvement by fathers with their children. Back in 2008, I named this social evolution the Daddying Movement.
I coined the term daddying in 1994, to more accurately describe the active, involved exuberance of my own parenting and the parenting of other men I knew. The word “fatherhood” seemed passive and dull, flat, and uni-dimensional. Its gerund, “fathering,” suggested a one-time biological act, requiring no greater commitment than a shot of DNA. “Daddying” better conveyed the lifelong process that I relished as I embraced my responsibilities for my children’s well-being: physical, emotional, social, intellectual and creative, and spiritual and moral. Becoming a parent changes one’s identity forever and this new word embodies that fundamental change and the realization that fathers matter – in their presence as well as in their absence.
During the hundreds of hours I have spent conducting in-depth interviews with nearly 200 fathers and grandfathers from 20 countries, I initially worried that the word daddying would be seen as "wimpy," or that fathers might cringe at its use. I discovered quite the opposite: it seems to invite them to be in touch with a more tender side of their being; it appears to challenge them to defy stereotypes about men’s reluctance to open up. The word does not seem to imply a loss of masculinity; rather it expands and redefines masculinity.
One hundred percent of the men have told me that being a dad enriches them. Many fathers continue to tell me that in addition to being reminded of what is really important, their children often serve to remind them of which needs are fundamental. It is clear to me that as more men spend time with their children, many want to spend even more. So, in a way, the rewards and joys of daddying are self-perpetuating, they stimulate a desire for more daddying.
This inadvertent evolution holds exceptional promise for families and for a better world. Why do I find this movement so hopeful? As more fathers take on increased parenting responsibilities, more are seizing the life-altering potential of parenting, discovering that it provides a rare opportunity to think about what is really important and to make a direct connection to their hearts. Likewise, as men spend more time with their children and become more aware – both consciously and unconsciously – that bellicose and violent responses to threats may not always be as effective as hoped, their protective “instincts” may be tempered by the tenderness often required in caring for children; indeed, more tenderness may be just what is needed in a world inexorably moving toward self-destruction.
[The word "daddying"] seems to invite men to be in touch with a more tender side of their being; it appears to challenge them to defy stereotypes about men’s reluctance to open up. The word does not seem to imply a loss of masculinity; rather it expands and redefines masculinity.
The evolution has been building steadily and quietly for more than five decades, when the “women’s movement,” somewhat ironically and inadvertently, gave birth to the current daddying movement, one that began essentially by default. As a byproduct of women’s struggles for equality in the workplace, mothers were less available at home, and fathers had to fill in. And this has been reinforced by the pandemic when more men have spent increasing amounts of time with their children. The daddying movement has come without the kind of confrontational strife, fanfare, and stridency often associated with men. As such, its very evolution and modus operandi challenge gender stereotypes. It did not begin with a strategic “game plan” or an identifiable “leader.”
The “women’s movement” triggered seismic and lasting changes. It created a culture more welcoming, hospitable, and at times, even nurturing, of changing gender roles and stereotypes. It prodded us to broaden our thinking about gender and families. As a result, more men – who are becoming today’s fathers – have grown to maturity during a time when traditional gender roles have been questioned and altered; and when many women say they prefer men who are sensitive and equal parenting partners.
The evolution continues to build one dad and newborn at a time. Signs of the movement are everywhere, but it remains virtually unidentified and, therefore, is rarely discussed. It is no longer unusual or jarring to:
See dads pushing strollers or carrying infants in baby carriers
See dads going to schools, playgrounds, and story hours with their children
Hear of corporate policies and government reports including fathers in their considerations and findings, where “maternity leave” has yielded to “parental leave”
Have hospitals inviting men into prenatal classes and delivery rooms as more and more men speak comfortably about “our pregnancy”
Have ubiquitous media be rife with movies, books, lyrics, interviews, advertisements, and articles featuring sensitive dads and nurturing men. It is no longer unusual to see men cradling their children on popular magazine covers or when receiving awards and championship trophies; and
Witness a constant increase in the number and variety of fatherhood groups.
Like a snowball rolling downhill, the daddying movement continues to pick up strength and size as it gains velocity. It seems as if man’s traditional role as “protector” has reflexively kicked into a higher gear as kids need more protection in a world that grows increasingly dangerous, confrontational, and vulnerable. At a time when more of us seem to hear an inner voice summoning, “all hands on deck,” more of us are listening to that voice and rethinking and readjusting our priorities.
The daddying movement has recently achieved a critical mass of men who embrace and relish their expanded parenting roles. Now, much like the old Alka Seltzer slogan proclaimed, “Try it, you’ll like it,” millions of men are trying out new parenting roles and embracing them. In unprecedented numbers, fathers are discovering that nurturing their children can nourish them as well.
During an emotionally roiled and unsettling time, more men and women alike, are craving the hopefulness, innocence, and natural tolerance traditionally associated with childhood; the refreshing candor of direct questions and straightforward answers; the appreciation of vulnerability and the responsibilities and obligations of power; the need for, and demonstration of, basic human tenderness and caring; and the childlike qualities of playfulness, flexibility, humor, imagination, enthusiasm, sense of wonder, and a willingness to make mistakes.
Now ... millions of men are trying out new parenting roles and embracing them. In unprecedented numbers, fathers are discovering that nurturing their children can nourish them as well.
We are living in an era when we all need to work harder to hold onto a sense of optimism. I can’t remember a time when I wanted less, but needed more, to keep abreast of current events. As the world literally and figuratively seems to be heating up everywhere, I am reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s description of a time when “events are in the saddle riding mankind.”
As the earth wobbles on its axis, it causes a sense of emotional disequilibrium, powerlessness, and increased foreboding. As I search for signs of hopefulness and encouragement, it seems that as the world gets harder around its edges, men get more tender around their edges. It is comforting and encouraging to find a ray of hope in this unexpected place.
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Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, and five grandchildren, as well as numerous "bonus" sons/daughters and grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, school leadership, parenting coaching, policy development, and advising at the local, state, and national levels. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019 he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D the most important “degree” of all.