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What Real Modern Fathers Look Like in 2016

The Short of It

The first ever "State of America's Fathers" report offers insight into what it really means to be a dad in 2016.

The Lowdown

In many households, you need look no further than your living room to see what being a modern father is all about. He's more involved with the kids and taking care of the home (beyond just the lawn!) than ever before. And that's good news. According to Promundo, a MenCare advocacy publication, the so-called involved dad revolution has power to advance and improve important social issues like gender equality and childhood development outcomes. The U.S. economy stands to benefit from dads taking a more hands-on approach to parenting and housework, too. Experts estimate the gross domestic product will grow by several hundred billion dollars, because women are working outside the home at the same rate as men.

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While this is all good stuff, the report, which analyzed data from the Families and Work Institute's National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW), says the country is not doing enough to support American fathers in their expanding roles. Because while upper-middle and upper-income daddies are empowered to be highly engaged with their kiddos, too many dads on the other end of the economic spectrum have little to no access to paid paternal leave.

According to the report, 95 percent of low-wage workers aren't afforded the opportunity to take paid leave through their employers, even for the life-changing event of a child's birth. Other sobering statistics that emerged were:

  • 11 percent of U.S. men will go to prison at some point in their lives.
  • 60 percent of those who have been in prison are people of color.
  • 2.7 million kids have a parent who is incarcerated.
  • 92 percent of incarcerated parents are dads.

Meanwhile, the family unit is changing, according to the report, with kids more likely than ever not to live in a traditional, heterosexual, two-parent household. Half of American children will spend some of their formidable years living in single-parent households.

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Despite that troubling data, the report also highlights that in the last 30 years, fathers are spending more time with their kids than ever. Even nonresident dads are consistently very active in their children's lives. But we still have a long way to go. No matter a father's economic status, he is finding it tricky to balance work and family life. The report found 73 percent of parents who work more than 40 hours a week feel they don't spend enough time with their kids.

The Upshot

So what can we do to support modern dads, and moms, in their quest to have it all? It's no secret that the United States lags behind other developed nations when it comes to offering paid family leave to workers, even after passing the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). And high incarceration rates coupled with the demands of child-support financially cripple far too many low-income dads, the report says.

So, it outlines action points for how to improve the current situation, including:

  • The need for national legislation to provide for paid, equal, and non-transferable leave for moms and dads of newborns; the goal being 12 or 16 weeks, which can generally be paid for by both mothers and fathers through an estimated payroll tax of about 1 percent.
  • The U.S. government to provide the poorest papas and families with a living wage, to reform the justice system, and to provide additional services that encourage and support their care giving, such as an Earned Income Tax Credit for nonresident fathers who pay child support.
  • Joint physical custody of kids after a relationship or marriage ends should be pursued when it is in the best interest of the child, and in cases where there is no history or threat of violence.
  • Building on a foundation of reproductive justice, supportive programs and services, which include comprehensive sexuality education and quality reproductive health services, to support individuals in planning when and how they want to have kids.
  • Workplaces to value what parents do as caregivers as much as they value their professional achievements; for more men to join the HEAL (health, education, administration, and literacy) professions; and for children to learn the value of care giving from young ages in order to help accelerate social shifts toward greater acceptance and valuing of care giving qualities in all genders.

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Gary Barker, president and CEO of Promundo, sums up its findings this way: "What our report and our new data show is this: women and men want the policies and the support so that all parents can be full-on, fully engaged, fully equal caregivers. We also confirm that implementing paid leave is far less costly than often thought; and that when implemented alongside income support to low-income fathers and parents, these policies pay for themselves in increased productivity and happier, healthier families. What are we waiting for?"

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