Categorized | Features, Grandparenting

The Evolution Of Fatherhood Through A Grandparent’s Eyes

Rayna, Andrew and Aaron (from l to r)

As a modern father, Andrew (center) delights in Rayna’s (l) enjoyment of tennis, his high school varsity sport, and Aaron’s (r) attempts at soccer, another of Andrew’s early sports interests. 

By Ellen L. Weingart

One of my mother’s favorite stories to tell was the one about my father’s tie. It was the tie he was wearing when he changed his newborn son’s diaper for the first time. As soon as the old diaper was removed, my older brother, as boy babies are wont to do, let go a yellow stream of urine, hitting my dad squarely on the tie.

Although I no longer remember what it looked like, my parents kept that tie for many years.

I suspect it was the last diaper my father ever changed.

Oh my dad was good at many of the fun things. He taught both my brother and me to ride bikes.

He played ball and tossed a football with my brother — this was the ’50s and dads, of course, didn’t do “sports” with their daughters.

Friday was our special day together, when my father’s dental practice was closed (he worked Saturdays instead) and with my brother in school, he’d give my mom a day “off” too. I would walk with him through the neighborhood, holding hands and swinging our arms, as he ran his errands.

He would take me to the barbershop with him when he needed a haircut, to the laundry to pick up his freshly washed and pressed shirts, to the corner store for a newspaper. Places I remember more for their distinctive smells than for what they looked like.

My dad would also read poetry to me when I was little. I loved the rhythmic poems he chose — Lochinvar, The Highwayman, Annabelle Lee,Mandalayand the heart-breaking Little Boy Blue. I think it was an excuse for him to read aloud the poems he loved.

I don’t remember my father ever giving either my brother or me a bath, going to a school open house or taking us to our various activities. Dads, at least my dad, were there for fun. My mom was there to pretty much take care of the rest.

The tie story served my husband, Bill, and me well when our own two boys were born. We knew right from the start: Open the dirty diaper and immediatelydrop a clean one where it would do the most good. Bill, already an experienced diaperer, albeit his training was on his much younger sister, changed many diapers.

His involvement in the lives of our sons, Harris and Andrew, started early. Where my dad, like just about all fathers at the time, had paced nervously in the waiting room until a nurse announced the birth of his child, Bill occasionally joined me on prenatal doctor visits, encouraged me through labor and witnessed his children enter the world.

Paternity leave wasn’t even on the table in those days and so most of baby care fell to me until Bill was home from work, when he would become a full participant. He bathed the boys. He dressed them. He walked the floor with them when they cried during the night.

Oddly, and rather unfairly, we both referred to this as “helping” me. Looking back, it was nonsensical — and demeaning.

It seemed natural as they grew that I,  first a stay-at-home mom and then a part-time journalist who could work from home or later still, schedule work around the boys’ school day (or at night, when Bill would be home), would have prime responsibility for their day-to-day needs.

I took them to doctors’ appointments, baby and me classes, the park, play dates and, as they grew older, nursery school, day camp, sports practices and on and on. I also took them with me to the supermarket, various other errands and more than once, when there was no other choice, to a work interview.

Harris, Josie and Miriam (from l to r)

If my sons, well grown with children of their own, and their wives are any example, fathers and mothers are now equal parenting partners. And doing an amazing job at it. Prenatal visits involved both prospective parents and while clearly my daughters-in-law, Elizabeth and Amelia, did all the work, my sons were with their wives offering support and encouragement during labor and delivery. Both my sons were able to take time off from work after each of their children was born. And they’ve continued to co-parent with their wives.

In each household, with both husband and wife having full-time jobs, one parent is just as likely as the other to do the chores that need doing: the wash, making lunches, grocery shopping, driving to and from preschool and getting the older ones to and from school. They attend school meetings. They give baths and they get the kids to bed.

Harris and Andrew are just as likely to take the kids to the pediatrician as Elizabeth and Amelia are — and to be with them when they’re sick, even when that means a missed day at work. And when one parent travels for work, the other does it all on his or her own.

My sons are there for plenty of fun stuff, too. Harris introduced Miriam and then Josie to his passion for major league baseball and by taking his girls to women’s college basketball games. These activities are showing them that high level sports are for females too. Andrew delights in Rayna’s enjoyment of tennis, his high school varsity sport, and Aaron’s attempts at soccer, another of Andrew’s early sports interests.

Momsanddads read to the kids, play games with them and take them to age-appropriate movies and shows. Just about every weekend, it seems, involves some fun family adventure.

And they’ve all changed plenty of diapers along the way.

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