Mark Zuckerberg’s introduction to fatherhood is being widely covered by the popular press, and throughout Facebook. Zuckerberg has been sending out photos of himself enjoying fatherhood, including pics of him changing a diaper and reading to his baby.
Stories like these promote the notion of a newer, more involved father. Fathers certainly are being encouraged to become involved parents at earlier stages than ever before – even before birth. Last April, men were the recipients of their own fertility app, illustrating not just a desire of men to become more actively involved in understanding their fertility, but also a new potential market for companies to sell to.
From the time men are first aware that they are to become dads, they become part of a fatherhood-industrial complex. The last Superbowl included a series of ads that appealed to fathers, showing them caring for and nurturing children at different stages. Fathers now also can’t escape the fear mongering that had been reserved for moms in the past. A recent study warns men that fatherhood may make them fat: researchers offer that fathers may be devoting more time to their children at the expense of exercising and taking care of themselves. Welcome to the club, dads.
With that, here’s a shameless plug: I’m proud to announce Deconstructing Dads: Changing Images of Fathers in Popular Culture, a collection of essays that Dr. Janice Kelly and I have edited together. The authors in this collection argue that, despite the popular myth of a new age of fatherhood, much of society, and popular culture in particular, promotes the idea of fatherhood as an ambiguously defined role that continues to play second fiddle to mothers. Fathers have to push back against the expectation that they should primarily serve the provider role and be absent from the home in order to earn money for the family, rather than care for the children.
In the United States, some companies are beginning to encourage fathers to spend time with their newborns, but many fathers still feel the pressure to work at the expense of family time. Take, for example, the case of Daniel Murphy, the Mets baseball player who was publicly criticized for taking time off during the season to be with his wife during the birth of their child. Men are consistently subjected to reports about the unequal division of work at home. While this may be true, stories like these do little to help find the roots of the inequity.
Zuckerberg is changing diapers, which projects a positive cultural sign for fathers seeking a larger caretaking role, but most fathers (as well as mothers in the U.S.) do not have the resources that would allow them to have this kind of quality time with their newborns. Images of participatory fathers need to be matched with critical discussion about how we assign fatherly roles and what structures in society still make parental participation (both fathers and mothers) challenging
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