My brother-in-law James is on the sofa, his six-month-old son in his lap. Next to him is Jordan, one of his best friends, a single guy who works out a lot. (He knows as much about babies as a single guy who works out a lot.) There they sit, shoulder to shoulder, watching a Notre Dame football game with minimal conversation.
During halftime, James hands the baby to Jordan, and goes to the kitchen to grab a small spoon and container of sweet potatoes. Jordan cradles the baby, calmly and carefully, as if handling an ancient Grecian urn.
James takes care of the baby, and Jordan takes care of James. Call it daddysitting.
I’ve seen it on display in Facebook photos, written about in blog posts, and taking place in my own family: The younger generation of fathers are including their friends—be they fathers or not—in the nitty gritty daddy duty. It’s an interesting trend considering male friendships tend to pull a Thelma & Louise off Mount Preggers. Parenthood is a rather insular experience. Most of the time it’s the family swaddled up together in their own little cocoon. As a result, poker night and golf outings become casualties of procreation. To put it bluntly, fatherhood kills male friendships.
Geoffrey Greif, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and author of Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships. I tell him my nascent theory about today's dads being more comfortable involving friends in their fatherly endeavors.
“Daddysitting could be the new way to handle a friendship,” notes Greif. He explains that men have side-to-side relationships: They do activities together, but keep emotional interaction to a minimum. (See: night, poker; outing, golf) Women, by contract, have face-to-face relationships: They are passionate, talkative, and engaged. The side-by-side dynamic allow guys to handle the task in front of them, while also squeezing in QT with their bros.
“It makes perfect sense,” Greif says. “As men’s lives change, they learn new ways to take on the responsibilities of child-rearing, which are increasingly being shared by men, while also maintaining an important link to their peers.”
Why has it taken so long for us to merge our dad and dude sides? Because we have trouble showing sensitivity unless it’s within the context of something macho, like sports or war. “We can be tender only if we are being masculine at the same time,” says Greif. For most of history, caring for children has been a maternal, feminine undertaking. The involved 21st century pop is changing that. He’s converting child care into a male bonding activity. He’s turning tummy time into a wing-eating contest.
As I leave James’ house, I catch a glimpse of the kitchen counter: A couple empty Guinness cans next to a drying rack filled with baby bottles and nipples. Messy, cluttered, manly, and sweet. I have observed the daddysitter in its natural habitat.