Does being more of a father make you less of a man? To a group of committed dads assembled one night in a New Jersey diner, the answer is obvious. Sort of. Paul Haley, 38, a father of two, says women look at him when he walks down the street with his kids. “I think it’s admiration,” he says. Adam Wolff, also 38–with two kids and one on the way–ponders what it means to be a man. “Is my man-ness about being the breadwinner or being a good father to my kids or something else?” Michael Gerber, 36, father of a 7-month-old, asks, “Do you mean, Do we feel whipped?”
“I’m probably a little whipped,” shrugs Lee Roberts, 45. He’s a part-time copy editor, married to a full-time journalist, who has stayed home for nine years to raise their two children. “There are definitely some guys who look at me and think, ‘What’s up with him?’ Do I care? Well, I guess I do a little because I just mentioned it,” he says. Haley speaks up to reassure him: “Kids remember, man. All that matters is that you’re there. Being there is being a man.”
But what does it mean, exactly, to be a man these days? Once upon a Darwinian time, a man was the one spearing the woolly mammoth. And it wasn’t so long ago that a man was that strong and silent fellow over there at the bar with the dry martini or a cold can of beer–a hardworking guy in a gray flannel suit or blue-collar work shirt. He sired children, yes, but he drew the line at diapering them. He didn’t know what to expect when his wife was expecting, he didn’t review bottle warmers on his daddy blog, and he most certainly didn’t participate in little-girl tea parties. Today’s dads plead guilty to all of the above–so what does that make them?
As we fuss and fight over the trials and dilemmas of American mothers, a quiet revolution is occurring in fatherhood.