With Father's Day this Sunday, it's worth asking: Do we really value dads, or should we just rename it "Co-Mom's Day" instead?
Entertainment news sites have recently labeled singer Kanye West, the baby daddy to celebrity girlfriend Kim Kardashian's little one expected in July, a potential "runaway" dad. (He had a hit song by the same name, so sites are having fun with this.)
That's because he has reportedly said he will not be in the delivery room when Kardashian gives birth, though he plans to be at the hospital.
Of course, not marrying her doesn't make West a "runaway." For that matter, Kardashian was still legally married to Kris Humphries when she got pregnant by West. Small detail. But not being in the delivery room? Now that's a cause for judgment.
For the record, my first child was born with hubby right there the whole time. By number four, I asked him to go play golf and come over after it was all done. It was blissful.
Sure, a lot of guys say they want to be there when their little darling comes into the world, and that's fine. Really. But I'm guessing a lot of fellows also tell their wives that they are totally opposed to her having a breast augmentation -- even as they wink at the plastic surgeon during the consultation.
So yes, I take such male enthusiasm about the delivery room with a grain of salt.
Anyway, our culture demands that fathers be part of the birth itself, whether they want to be or not. That's because, it seems to me, we women want, at best, to make men "more sensitive" to what we are going through. At worst, we want to punish them for it.
And the common notion that Dad's presence in the delivery room promotes family bonding? Pretty shallow. Think about it: It's much more common for fathers to be in the delivery room now than was the case 50 years ago, but today's marriages fall apart much more easily. So any relationship glue that the father's birthing-room experience provides is pretty unimpressive.
Men are not built to give birth, but we women are. Duh. So why are we trying to re-create them in our image?
And that's just for starters as a father.
Once the baby comes home, this continues. Today, there is a push to make sure that more men take paternity leave. Currently, most men don't use extended leave when offered, The Wall Street Journal essentially opined this week. And they often spend what little time they do take off working from home. The Journal noted that it could be because fathers fear a stigma or loss of work advancement if they take more than a week or two off after the baby is born. Or it could be because of "lingering stereotypes about a father's role in the family," as the Journal put it.
What if a man feels that one of the best things he can do to show his love for his family is to provide for it, even if that includes while the new little peanut is settling in? What if he's -- gasp -- wired that way? Really, this should come as no surprise: Studies show that men with children at home put in more hours on the job than those without. A 2011 report from the Families and Work Institute is one recent study to demonstrate such a conclusion. At the time, USA Today quoted Kathleen Christensen, a working-families expert at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, as commenting in response to the finding:
''They (fathers) feel a very deep and abiding responsibility to take care of their families. The father's identity as breadwinner is so ingrained in who they are."
So why does our culture say there is something wrong with that?
I'm all for husbands helping out wives at every stage of family life -- and vice versa -- and for dads having great relationships with their kids, and making time for them. Such relationships are crucially important. But I'm also for understanding that those relationships will typically operate very differently from the mother-child relationship. This is why kids thrive best with a mom and a dad at home.
When we keep asking "Why can't a dad be more like a mom?," we do so to our detriment. I, for one, hope to help curb this trend. So I will keep saying it as long as I am allowed to: Happy Father's Day!
(Email Betsy Hart at firstname.lastname@example.org.)