It's Time to Raise the Daddying Bar
By Allan Shedlin
Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group
As we set our personal New Year resolutions, we might also set some broader societal resolutions. In so doing, I’m reminded of the invitation I received a decade ago from the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to share some ideas with a new Obama administration about starting a "fatherhood movement."
I seized the opportunity.
As this was the designated lead office on fatherhood issues, and because I had been working in, researching, and writing about fatherhood topics for almost two decades, I was eager to brainstorm with an administration led by a President who vigorously embraced his role as a dad.
Beginning boldly, I pointed out that a fatherhood movement was already underway, so a more appropriate question might be "How can the Obama administration harness the energy and momentum that already exists in the 'Daddying Movement' I had been writing about since my first commentary on the topic was published back in 2008?"
During this initial White House office meeting, I suggested it might be a good idea to convey a more energetic approach to bringing fathers fully into the family picture, one that accurately reflected the President's enthusiastic embrace of being a dad and embodied his obvious personal commitment. I recommended an appropriate starting point could be replacing the phrase that had been used by the prior three administrations: "encouraging responsible fatherhood."
That "tagline" may have been a safe starting point during the Clinton administration, but it now seemed a bit too old, tired, and modest a goal. Dads then and now were/are ready for a bolder challenge.
The new realities of recognizing the importance of including fathers as vital family members demand a new rallying cry that raises the bar of expectations. The years since the White House first used its bully pulpit to encourage responsible fatherhood have been marked by several broad social changes for fathers, including:
Dramatic increases in work-at-home dads
Burgeoning numbers and varieties of fatherhood groups
More commonplace outreach by schools and libraries to include fathers
Ubiquitous coverage of male celebrities and other public figures pictured in parenting roles and talking about the joys of fatherhood
Ongoing qualitative research findings documenting the benefits to dads of greater involvement with their children
More movies and television shows that actually portray dads as solid nurturers, not just buffoons; and
An increase in workplace policies to include "parental" leave, not just "maternity" leave.
Because there are many more fathers behaving responsibly, it's time not to merely settle for "responsible fathering." Instead, I suggested during that long-ago White House meeting that we make a national call for "exuberant daddying." With an immediate wince, smile, and polite response, "I don't think we're quite ready for that yet," we moved on.
As I continue to think about that meeting, the subsequent ones I’ve had, my ongoing research, and the fatherhood programs I’ve been fortunate to work with and initiate around the country, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s time to boost expectations about how fathers are involved in the lives of their children and families. Of course, there are still way too many fathers who need to aspire to “responsible fatherhood” as a first step. My experiences and observations, however, tell me that dads are ready to be stretched. They want the bar raised.
I’m more convinced than ever that it’s time to boost expectations about how fathers are involved in the lives of their children and families.
Though we may not yet be ready to call it “exuberant daddying,” we are ready to call it “vibrant father involvement.” Indeed, the sixth and final White House-sponsored national Fatherhood Forum (held in 2010 in New Mexico) was subtitled “Encouraging Vibrant Father Engagement.” From that meeting and in the time since, my colleagues and I have identified the following key steps we can take to bolster the level of father involvement nationwide:
Promote the benefits of dad involvement to kids and fathers alike.
Foster an awareness and understanding that families, schools, communities, and worker productivity are served when fathers and children are positively involved in each others' lives.
Identify specific areas that either encourage or discourage father involvement and take specific actions to support those that encourage and change those that discourage vibrant involvement.
Urge the news and entertainment media to develop and highlight stories of positive father involvement throughout the year – not just during the days surrounding Fathers' Day.
Shine a spotlight on the variety of ways our culture continues to positively change in recognition of the importance of fathers.
In many ways, we've already raised the bar in recognizing that fathers matter to kids, kids matter to fathers, and that families, schools, and communities are better off when fathers and children are positively engaged in each others' lives.
Maybe now we just need to establish it as a stated goal. And with a current President whose dedication to his family is at the heart of his life, who knows, once such a goal is declared, it may not be long before we recognize that nurturing can be a male as well as a female descriptor and we can expand the adage to "It's as American as motherhood, fatherhood, and apple pie."
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.