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How The Spice Girls Changed Fatherhood

Fifteen years ago, Brandy, my then-girlfriend, tried to break up with me. The reason: Everything was a priority, except her. She was right. I often showed up late or forgot to call. Meanwhile, Blockbuster rentals were always returned on time. I promised to do better, work harder, all while dressed as Vanilla Ice. I should probably mention it was Halloween. Brandy’s costume was Sporty Spice.

The year was 1997. The song of the moment was “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls, five Rosie the Riveters in sequins and platform shoes who spread their “girl power” gospel via music, dolls, and trading cards. Titanic, a movie about a young woman struggling to gain independence, reigned at the box office and won 11 Oscars. The First Lady was Hillary Clinton, a woman who wasn’t interested in being just another smiling mannequin at state dinners. She wanted to run something like, oh I don’t know, all of us.

I watched these happenings and milestones spread through girl culture first-hand. At the movie theater, I suffered through weeping and sniffling as a well-coiffed Popsicle named Leonardo DiCaprio sank into the Atlantic. Hillary Clinton spoke at my college, and my female friends came home crowing about her red-hot ambition and canary yellow pantsuit. My wife rocked a high ponytail and tracksuit on Halloween.

It seems like 1997 was the year when things started to shift for today’s men and women—and for Brandy and I as well. The proof is in Pew Research Center’s recent report “A Gender Reversal on Career Aspirations.” For the first time ever, young women surpass young men in the value they place on a high-paying profession. Sixty-six percent of women ages 18 to 34 rate career high on their list of priorities; the figure for men in that age group is 59 percent. The last time the two groups felt roughly the same way about the importance of career? 1997.

The one area that men and women agree is on parenting: Both rank being a good parent considerably higher than they did back when Ally McBeal was hallucinating about dancing babies.

So guys today are more invested about family, and less preoccupied with career. Interestingly, Brandy and I are on the same trajectory. I took Vanilla Ice’s advice (“stop, collaborate and listen”), and we’ve been together ever since. In May, my wife launched a new entrepreneurial venture in Las Vegas, then flew straight home to see our oldest son Jackson receive an award at school. Meanwhile, I’m finding very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very clever ways to lighten my workload so I can get home to Sporty and our backstreet boys.

Looking back, 1997 was the year Brandy and I avoided the iceberg and charted a new course. This is the case for countless others too. The current research shows that there are more working moms, more female breadwinners, more involved dads. Did an ambitious First Lady and a manufactured girl group have anything to do with it?

Is pop culture a Tarot card for family life? If we examine the sights, sounds and sitcoms of today, can we see where family and fatherhood is headed? Best I can tell, in another 15 years, family life will revolve around crime scene investigators, swamp people, storage units, Kardashians, and pawnshops.