Talking about the rewards of fatherhood, a friend and I found ourselves comparing notes last week about how different we were from our own fathers.
Among baby boomer dads I know, this is a familiar conversation. My dad worked a lot, they say. There wasn't much time for talking about what was going on in my life.
When my time came, they add, I wanted to be closer to my kids.
If dads were different from one generation to the next, we shouldn't be surprised. It's tough to recall two generations that grew up in such different circumstances.
The Greatest Generation was tempered by the experiences of the Great Depression and World War II. Hard work and sacrifice were required. Roles assigned to men and women were dictated by customs that existed for centuries. Dads were the breadwinners and the disciplinarians, and they went about their duties with devotion and with stoicism.
Thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of the generation that preceded them, the baby boomers grew up in a time of unprecedented prosperity. For better and for worse, material comforts created opportunities that didn't exist for previous generations.
Sometimes, we took advantage of these new freedoms. Sometimes, we wandered into the weeds.
If our dads' generation tended to be the strong, silent types, baby boomers were encouraged to talk about their feelings, and sometimes it seemed like we would never shut up. (Some were even comfortable with writing columns about fatherhood.)
Growing rates of divorce made an impact, too. Suddenly, there were more part-time and full-time single fathers learning to manage new responsibilities — diapers, day care, school clothes.
Meanwhile, the recognition that women have the same rights as men when it comes to making career choices (and everything else) required men to take on more of the workload at home.
The Pew Research Center found that mothers are now the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of all families, the Associated Press reported last week. Another Pew study found that since 1965, fathers have increased the number of hours devoted to household chores from four hours to 10hours a week, and dads have tripled the time they spend with their children.
People busy fighting the cultural wars will debate the merits of these changes, but passing judgment on people who grew up in a different time and place doesn't seem the most useful of exercises.
For myself, I feel lucky to have come along when fathers were more engaged with their children, and I'll bet most of my peers feel the same.
I have friends who found great success in their professional lives, but I admire them more for what they did as single fathers. If asked, they would say that nothing gave them as much joy and satisfactions as their time with their kids.
Once upon a time, I was a single parent. It was an arrangement that I'm sure puzzled my dad. Nothing in his experience prepared him for the idea that men could raise children, too.
I learned that being a single parent can be hard work. But it's what you do because you're needed — and because you couldn't imagine doing anything else.
To this day, my daughter and I share happy stories about those times.