Cook: Chop wood, change diapers

Cook: Chop wood, change diapers

June 16th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

We like beer, but we're no Homer Simpson.

And we're not deadbeat, Mad Men or Ward Cleaver.

We are 21st century fathers. And we've come a long way, baby.

"From 1985 to 2000, the amount of time married fathers spent with their children more than doubled," states a recent report from Pew Research Center.

Rewind to 1965 and the amount of time almost triples.

"Men have a strong desire to be fathers," the report states.

In days long ago, when gender roles were straitjacket-rigid, being a father was like making a martini. A lot of this (9-to-5 job) with a dash of this (each dinner, casseroles made by the Mrs.) with a touch of that (tousle the kid's hair, go to bed).

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon ...

But today, with so many of those rigid gender roles sinking faster than Archie Bunker into his chair, the American dad is multifaceted and multifunctional. Like a Leatherman.

We ... change diapers. Chop wood.

Mow yard. Make dinner.

Coach Little League. Memorize "Little Mermaid."

Plan date-nights. Cry at movies. (Or fake it.)

We wear, in public, the Baby Bjorn.

There are rumors some of us can even French braid.

"There's been a cultural shift that has really promoted a higher level of father involvement," evolutionary psychologist Bruce Ellis told USA Today.

This column is not a slight against my own pop (Happy Father's Day, Dad)

who is, easily, the finest man I know.

Rather, it's meant to call attention to this new form of fatherhood while pushing back against the cultural pattern that insults it. Like the last guy to the party, the national media has not caught up with this paternal evolution and instead offers to America one of two archetypes:

"'Mr. Mom' and fat pig," writes Stephen Marche in this month's Esquire. "The most popular shows of the past 30 years have all been about family and have all had a failed dad at the center."

Pop culture dads are either juvenile slobs (see "Family Guy" or the aforementioned Simpson) or emasculated and clownish (Phil Dunphy on "Modern Family"; Ray Romano) or blockheads lost in hip America (any heterosexual on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy").

Try naming one pop culture father who is responsible, wise and compassionate. Cosby reruns don't count.

Yet when I go to the ballfield, or church, or piano recitals, I find a community of modern dads who are engaged, hard-working and loving.

At least we're trying to be.

Several weeks ago, First Things First brought a fathering workshop to our neighborhood elementary school.

A hundred dads showed up. On a weeknight.

Our kids sat criss-cross-applesauce on the gym floor and guessed at the charades we dads performed on stage. Performed, a term I'll use loosely.

My group was a tank. Barely. Down on my knees, wobbling across the stage floor, I was the right wheel. Tony the left wheel, my bud Tom the cannon.

One kid guessed we were a walrus.

"A calculator!" shouted another.

Afterward, the kids ate dessert like little Paula Deens, while Willie Richardson, then the fathering coordinator with First Things First, spoke to the crowd of dads.

"Love on your kids," he said. "Coach your kids. Train your kids and model the right behavior."

Back in the '80s, I heard similar advice.

"Yeah, 220, 221. Whatever it takes," Michael Keaton said.

Maybe that's what it is all about. Whatever it takes to be a good dad.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.