Traditionally, men are the leaders of the household. They are protectors and providers. Women, on the other hand, are the caretakers. They manage the day-to-day occurrences in the home and the emotional needs of the family. These gender roles extend back into Biblical days and have been the norm through the 50’s in America. Take, for example, television sitcoms like Leave It to Beaver and The Brady Bunch.
These roles began to shift with the surge of the women’s movement and the concept of “free love” in the 60’s. However, even with movies such as Mr. Mom (Michael Keaton, 1983) and Mrs. Doubtfire (Robin Williams, 1993), in which fathers took on traditional women’s duties, the concept of a male nurturer has been slow to catch on. [NOTE TO EDITOR: If you’d rather I not end with a preposition, the words “spread” or “develop” can be used instead. Personally, I felt that “catch on” was a better fit.] While women picketed and went to jail for their rights and chose to throw bras – and other symbols of feminine oppression – into a trash can, men have broken gender expectations in a much quieter way and without the media attention.
Fathers have begun reassessing their place in the family and demanding a greater work/life balance in their careers. The Pew Research Center reports that dads spent 7.3 hours per week with their children in 2011, as compared with only 2.5 hours in 1965. These steps are beneficial to the well-being of the family as a whole in addition to the children themselves, as psychologist recognize that kids tend to lead healthier, more successful lives when both parents are actively involved in raising them.
Child Development Resources (CDR) offers assistance to fathers who wish to be more involved in the care of their children. The Fatherhood Program has been available for about ten years and has received a federal grant which will help the organization expand current programs, create tailored courses, and enable more services to reach a greater number of fathers in the community. CDR’s Fatherhood Programs currently include several opportunities, including Linkages and Rookie Dads.
Linkages: Building Strong Connections offers weekly parenting classes, one-on-one coaching, and family support services for incarcerated fathers at the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail. Family events are also held and include the inmates and their families, allowing the men to put into practice what they’ve learned. Amy Bornhoft, Director of Training at CDR, states that the classes, which are held every third week of the month, are well attended and a favorite program among the incarcerated fathers.
“They write letters and tell of the impact that the program has had on their lives, of mistakes they’ve made and how they’ve learned to change,” says Bornhoft. “They pass down the knowledge to their children in the hopes of changing the cycle. They want to be involved and understand the impact that their actions have on their children. They want to make a difference.”
The Rookie Dads program has been in existence for approximately eight years and helps new fathers learn childcare skills such as feeding, diapering, burping, swaddling, and bathing. Participants learn different ways to be involved with their children, such as calming an upset baby or how to play with an infant.
Courtney, who graduated from the Rookie Dad program in June, found the class to be extremely beneficial. “The things I learned have taken some of the pressure off of my wife,” he says. “She feels comfortable that I know how to handle the baby and that I can take advantage of what I learned [from Rookie Dads].” Courtney and his wife are proud parents of Camille, who is three months old. Courtney is the stepfather of an older daughter as well, but states that even though she is not his biological child, he considers her his own. “I guess you could say that we are a blended family, but we have an incredible amount of love.”
CDR’s goal is to be proactive in their approach to teaching expectant fathers how to actively participate in their children’s lives. “There are already classes for moms on parenting,” says Bornhoft. “We offer fathers their own class and diaper bag, filled with dad resources and dad toys as part of their new important role.”
The classes are offered on the second Thursday of each month at Sentara Regional Medical Center from 7-9 pm. With the new funding, Bornhoft says that CDR hopes to expand its Rookie Dads program to include other hospitals.
CDR also offers events for Rookie Dad graduates to attend with their families, which typically include a short training session or speaker, a free meal, and time to interact with the children and other families. Topics in the past have included healthy eating on a budget, car safety classes, and seasonal activities. The next event is an open house on October 25th, which will explain the new offerings made available due to the recent funding.
Courtney recommends that expectant dads look into CDR’s Fatherhood Programs. “You always want to be a few steps ahead of your opponent, like in chess. [With Rookie Dads,] you’re ahead of the game.”