As director of film programs at The JCC in Manhattan, my schedule is quite demanding. But recently, I have taken on another, even more demanding, more important position—I have become a father.
For millions of years, the role of the father was very clear: hunt and let the mother take care of the child. I am lucky enough to have been brought up in the post-feminist movement world, with women being active and equal parts of the workforce, and more than ever they’ve become hunters as well. This new world of redefined and constantly changing gender roles has created a confusing condition for women attempting to balance work and family life—but has also made things more complicated for men attempting to do the same thing.
I am one of the few male programmers at the JCC and have always considered our work environment to be somewhat of the antithesis to Mad Men. It is true that at times I feel like an outsider, but ultimately, I am proud to be part of a modern, pluralistic, and equal opportunity society. The classic terms of parenthood have been tossed out the window, and we’ve made ways for single parents, same-sex parents, and other modern reconfigurations. So you can imagine why I was so surprised to find that when it came to parenting roles, we still live in an unequal society. Even in 2014 on the Upper West Side, one of the most progressive communities in the world, I find myself to be one of the few equally engaged fathers.
I first noticed it when I presented some film programs to the parents’ association at the JCC nursery school and only met mothers. I knew this demographic trend reached far beyond the JCC. But as I began to read mainstream parenting books, I was shocked to find a general attitude encouraging that fathers only being included in an active supporting role—as if the idea of fathers being equally involved isn’t an option. Parenting blogs were no better. It was tough to find truly modern dad advice and peers I could relate to.
When I began paternity leave, this divergence was brought into even sharper relief. The JCC is wonderful enough to give me a paternity leave equal to its maternity leave. But people I spoke to were baffled by the term. Some thought it was a joke. I myself was surprised to learn that most men do not get paternity leave of any kind. How can women ever be equal in the workplace if they have different leave packages? And how will men ever engage with their children equally when they don’t get the same access?
During my leave, I went to new parents groups and I was the only man there. When I walked the Upper West Side streets on a weekday, I rarely saw another father with child. Should fathers only be so on weekends? I think it is time we pursue our careers and be engaged parents—just like the strong women around us are trying to do on a daily basis.
The JCC likes to connect our pool to an old Jewish value. In the Talmud, it says that a father must teach his son to swim. (In fact, this is exactly why the JCC has a pool.) What I learn from this commandment is that even a thousand years ago—a time when the gender roles were much more specific—there was a Jewish value for fathers to be engaged with the upbringing of their children. So a thousand years later, I’m sure fathers can do a little more than just handle the sports.
As a fully engaged father, there are no roles in our home. I take on the same responsibilities as my working wife (apart from the one biological inability to produce breast milk). I’m not doing this because I am fighting for women's equality, or out of a need to reform our society. I am doing this because there is nothing more important to me than my son—and why would anyone want to take a back seat with their child?