In the face of everyday pressures like finding affordable child care, changing workplaces, and an ongoing conversation about how households can be more equitable, what it means to be a parent is constantly evolving. So too is fatherhood specifically.
“Now more than ever, fatherhood is undefined — in a good way,” says Brian Anderson, co-founder and executive director of Fathering Together and author of “Fathering Together: Living a Connected Dad Life.”
The opportunity to reimagine what fatherhood looks like is something Anderson and colleague and close friend Dedan Bruner, attorney and founder of the On Fathering blog, are deeply invested in. Through their work, they’re encouraging dads to bring their professional and personal skills to parenting. “We’re not giving ourselves permission to use those skills that we pull in other areas to the benefit of our fatherhood journey,” points out Bruner.
Here, they share five ways dads can break outdated cycles and show up in new ways to create a more connected, gender equitable home.
1. Ask for help — and do your homework
If you’re at work and you’re stuck on a challenging undertaking, you talk to someone like a mentor to figure it out, points out Bruner. “But for some reason, we don’t feel empowered to say, you know, ‘Hey, uncle, friend, brother, clergy member, you got a kid. They look like they’re pretty well adjusted. They made it to their teens. How do you get past 12? What’s something that I could be doing differently?’” You could also just ask them about a particular acute issue you’re having, notes Bruner.
Similarly, you might do some research, he suggests. “There are podcasts or books, websites, chat groups,” he notes. “If there’s something I can’t figure out around the house, YouTube has everything. So why would I not use the same skills that I’m used to setting up a home network to talk to my kids about an emergency plan or something else that may be a challenge?”
2. Take on tasks that align with your skill set versus antiquated stereotypes
Bruner encourages dads to consider their own and their partner’s actual skill sets when deciding who does what around the house — as opposed to thinking, “I’m a guy, this is what my role is supposed to be, whether it fits me or not.” “If I’m a chef and my spouse is an accountant, there’s no reason why I’m doing the taxes, and she’s doing the cooking if we don’t want to, and if that’s not what we’re best suited to,” he points out. “These days, we’re giving ourselves more permission to really tailor fit what we bring to the family in ways that we haven’t in the past.”
3. Communicate like a team of colleagues would
Dads who work in leadership positions appreciate having a functional team that communicates well. That’s something Anderson encourages fathers to relate back into the home.
“My wife and I use Google Calendar every day,” he explains. “We actually have a standing meeting at 9 that the location is listed as ‘Couch.’ Throughout the day, if something pops up, an email or whatever, we just throw that into our agenda. And every night, if we have enough energy, we get through as much of the list as we can. We all have stand up meetings at work — why not shift that into the home, and make it fun?”
4. Take the time to check in and review
Everyone appreciates a boss who knows how to check in and review completed tasks with their employees in a way that’s empowering versus micromanaging, points out Bruner. And he feels like those kinds of check-ins work well at home, too.
“If you say, ‘How was your day?’ then you’ll get, ‘Fine,’” he notes. “[Instead,] check in and say, ‘Was there something that could have been different today?’ Or ‘what are your roses and your thorns?’”
With his tween daughter, Bruner does “after action reports.” For example, if they go on a road trip, they’ll come home and talk about what went well and if they were to go on the same trip again, what would they have skipped packing or packed instead. “We are going to go on another trip at some point or she’s gonna go on trips by herself, and I want her to be able to run that after action report to her head — not beating herself up, but thinking, ‘OK, if I get this opportunity again, this is how I would fine tune it,’” he explains.
In turn, his daughter gets a chance to practice her leadership skills.
5. Talk about your responsibilities and set an example
In the workplace, employees are held accountable for their responsibilities. The same is true at home, notes Anderson, who encourages dads to not only hold each other accountable and to set an example when it comes to stepping up at home and sharing in the parenting load.
To that end, Anderson would like to see male executive leaders creating systemic change by taking time off to do the work of fatherhood. He hopes that, more and more, they’ll be empowered to say “Hey, I’m leaving early to be the coach at my child’s Little League,” or, “I need to take the afternoon to take my kid to the dentist or the doctor” — and making those to-dos known in the office. “Thus, there’s an expectation and a culture shift that says it’s OK for other men and all parents to be allowed that time.”