The Daddying Movement Evolved and Is Helping Redefine Masculinity
Updated: May 5
When I began to describe a broad social and parenting tectonic shift taking place as the "Daddying Movement" back in 2007, I also called it an "inadvertent revolution." More than a decade later, I believe it would have been more appropriate had I referred to it as an "evolution."
The New York Times/Hearst News Service distributed my commentary "The Daddying Movement – A Gentle Revolution" worldwide in 2008, and the article was reprinted in a variety of publications after being picked up by the Associated Press. Since then, the Daddying Movement has surged well past a tipping point, even if it has traveled beneath the radar for many.
But like a snowball rolling downhill, the Daddying Movement has gained velocity as it continues to grow in strength and size. Signs of it are everywhere and unmistakable:
Family agency programs are focusing on the importance of fathers in their families
Increasing numbers of family-friendly corporate policies, including flextime and paid paternity leave
Fathers are more open to talking about parenting joys and challenges
Many men speak comfortably about "our pregnancy" and the vast majority of men insist on being present in the delivery room for the birth of their children
A growing number of research studies documenting that fathers and children matter to each other
Diaper changing tables are a regular sight in men’s public restrooms
"Congratulations on Your New Baby" cards now include versions written specifically for fathers
More dads are spending time with their kids at playgrounds during the day, and not just on weekends!
Dads "wearing" their little ones in baby carriers and pushing them in strollers is considered normal
Celebrity dads, including star athletes, Hollywood heavyweights, music icons, industry titans, and even royalty/heads of state, routinely make powerful statements on the importance daddying has in their personal and professional lives
More men are willing to accept less pay and fewer promotions in order to spend more time at home raising their children.
Thank You, Moms!
Like all social revolutions, this involved male parenting movement is not taking place in a vacuum. It is occurring within a broad historical context and interacting with a constantly evolving and ever-changing social backdrop. The "Women’s Movement," somewhat ironically and inadvertently, gave birth to the current Daddying Movement, which began by default. Because working moms were busier outside the home and, therefore, less available at home, fathers had to fill in.
The Women’s Movement triggered seismic and lasting changes in the larger society as well as within families. Despite some backlash, 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 – the ones 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.
As the Daddying Movement continues to evolve, there are varying degrees by which men embrace it. Some see it as emasculating. I see it instead as a
remasculating, while we expand and redefine what it means to be masculine in the 21st century.
In my research with fathers (and grandfathers) from 20 countries across a broad socio-economic and cultural spectrum, men have told me they embrace the opportunity to show their tender and sensitive sides and defy stereotypes. They are eager to open up.
Why the Movement Matters
The Daddying Movement is important to our greater society for several reasons because it:
Acknowledges human and social interdependence
Is more tolerant of a wider array of possibilities and relationships
Removes significant traditional barriers to human development
Broadens our potential for self-fulfillment and self-actualization; and
Minimizes arbitrary and constricting gender role expectations that pigeon-hole and handicap women and men alike.
The Daddying Movement’s momentum is undeniable and is likely to increase as a new generation of boys grows up in homes where more fathers are daddying and where there are more male role models demonstrating an expanded view of masculinity. It is an incomplete movement, still evolving in ways that can become even more beneficial to children and families, as well as the broader society.
As it was with the Women’s Movement, it is not easy to throw off the shackles of generations of traditional and restrictive expectations. Just as women are still battling to break through lingering glass ceilings in the office, men are battling to break through interpersonal and perceptual barriers at home. Here are some ways we will be able to observe and measure continuing progress:
When we routinely refer to a "nurturing instinct" that applies to both dads and moms, as opposed to only a "maternal instinct"
When fewer mothers serve as "gatekeepers" to positive father involvement
When the term "Mr. Mom" disappears from use so that men who are nurturing, sensitive, and tender with their children are not labeled "feminine"
When "father-friendly" corporate, written policies are more widely reflected in corporate cultures
When there is greater overall gender equality
When men who enter playgrounds with their children, or who attend story hours, are not asked, "Are you babysitting?"
When fathers no longer believe they look odd while nurturing their children or carrying out parenting roles and responsibilities traditionally associated with mothers
When more grandfathers embrace nurturing roles
When media portrayals of men as nurturers become even more "mainstream"
When the initial 50-percent contribution that men make in creating their children continues at close to that percentage of parental involvement as the children grow to adulthood.
Since coining the term DADvocacy nine years ago, there has been a steady acceptance of the concept, including its use most recently in 2019 by the organization Gays With Kids, in partnership with Dove Men+Care for "A Year of Dadvocacy" and "Dadvocates Day of Action" for paid paternity leave on Capitol Hill. There also has been a greater understanding that dads matter to kids, kids matter to dads, and families and communities are better off when fathers and children are positively involved in each other's lives.
We may not yet be at the point where we can officially expand the adage to "It’s as American as Motherhood, Fatherhood, and Apple Pie," but we're getting a lot closer.
Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, a “bonus” son, five grandchildren, and three “bonus” grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, policy development, and advising. 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 founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, and 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. 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.