Real parents: Joe Kelly

Author, speaker, trainer, consultant, focusing on fatherhood and the relationships between fathers and daughters. His books include Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Support and Understand Your Daughter and

The Dads & Daughters Togetherness Guide: 54 Fun Activities to Help Build a Great Relationship.

How far have we come since the days of hands-off dads and equating parenthood with motherhood? Not far enough says Joe Kelly. He’s the cofounder, with his wife Nancy Gruver, of New Moon Girls magazine, and of the national nonprofit Dads and Daughters. Dads and Daughters closed earlier this year, but Kelly continues to write and speak on what he calls “one of the largest untapped resources — fathers and stepfathers.”

You purposefully included stepfathers as an untapped resource.

I did. I think that if a child has stepparents and those four people have their eye on the ball, that kid is very, very lucky. It’s an incredible asset. Fathers are an incredible asset. When we think of fathers — their actual role in raising children — most of the time, we’re thinking of them as problems. Very seldom do we think of them as crucial to the raising of children. And fathers and stepfathers are. It’s baffling to me how huge is the blind spot we have as a culture when it comes to fathers. It’s gigantic. It’s asinine.

What would the world look like if we tapped into resource?

There’s not much research, but what there is says it leads to healthier mothers: The mother is healthier because she has someone sharing responsibilities. The children are healthier, better adjusted socially. And that has a lot less to do with the gender than the fact that there are two adults bringing all that they have to the life of a child. Involved fatherhood would also bring much healthier fathers, much happier fathers, fathers and stepfathers who are tapped into the fullness of their humanity.

I thought we had already reached the era of the involved dad?

I’m afraid not. We’ve made a lot of progress, but studies are pretty clear: The overwhelming majority of childrearing tasks are done by mothers. The expectations are still not there for fathers to take it on. When we start looking at it, it gets really messy. We still live in a sexist culture. Women get shortchanged in their careers because of the expectations at home. And one of the few locations of power for women in our culture is childrearing. Who could blame someone for not wanting to share their power? We have to start talking about things, looking at our own demons, our own attitudes and expectations.

So, talking about it is step one. What else do we have to do?

Women need to expect and support a man being involved. And men need to start talking to each other. For my book, I interviewed hundreds of fathers around the country. Half the guys had talked to a woman about being a father. The other half said they had never spoken to anyone about what it means to be a father — no one, not their father, not their parenting partner, not any of their friends had ever asked them, “How were you changed as a man by being a father?”

Want to be featured in real parents?

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