In the Whirled: The radical Mormon father, Part III

Published: Wednesday, March 28 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

The radical father is more engaged in the home. However, he does more than simply make pancakes or allow his wife time for her own pursuits. In bringing back the homemaker, we need to bring back the man who prided himself in home repair, who built shelves and cabinets, who fixed his own car or tiled the bathroom.

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Editor's note: Third in a series. Click for Part I and Part II.

Time magazine carried a cover story last week titled “The Richer Sex,” with the following tagline: “Women are overtaking men as America’s breadwinners. Why that’s good for everyone.”

Such provocative headlines usually seem overblown, but this one caught my attention because 1) It fit hand-in-hand with what I was going to write about this week and 2) I see it all around me. The work force is being shaken up like a snow globe.

It’s not unusual to see stay-at-home dads trolling the grocery store these days. It’s not unusual to have a dad who works from a home office, or shortens his workweek so he can pick up the kids from school. And it’s certainly not out-of-the-ordinary to have a double-income family where Mom earns more than Dad.

I see dads everywhere they weren’t 20 years ago: at the pediatrician, the parent-teacher conference, the kitchen stove and the ironing board. They’re down on the floor with their kids, tucking them in for the night with “Goodnight Moon” and “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.” Gone is the image of the Atticus Finch-type father who sits in his chair with his newspaper, delivering only occasionally the stern look above his spectacles.

Is this a good trend? I think so.

The “Greatest Generation” was phenomenal in many respects, but the dads weren’t around much. My paternal grandfather, in addition to his job as a judge, sang in a barbershop quartet, participated in the Lions Club, volunteered for the Civil Air Patrol and spearheaded another dozen or so organizations. Oh, and he was stake president. That seemed to work 50 years ago because there wasn’t much “parenting” going on. The village raised the child because the village was, by-and-large, ethical and religious and kids turned out pretty good.

Today, we don’t want the village raising the child. The village has turned a dark corner. We need engaged dads. We need mothers who are aware. We need radical families who gather around the hearth because they know it’s the best and safest place to be.

Our church leaders recognize this as well. Callings don’t come the way they used to. Bishops and stake presidents are more attuned to a family’s overall needs. I know someone who recently received a substantial church calling. The words of counsel from the general authority were this: Keep meetings short, and get home to be with your family.

So the radical father is more engaged in the home. However, he does more than simply make pancakes or allow his wife time for her own pursuits. In bringing back the homemaker, we need to bring back the man who prided himself in home repair, who built shelves and cabinets, who fixed his own car or tiled the bathroom. With the decline of manufacturing and hands-on-type jobs in the United States, we’ve devalued the jack-of-all-trades who did his part to build a home.

Today we value men who have lots of education and work in mind-based industries. My maternal grandfather worked in a paper mill and never went to college, but he built his own house, grew bushels of tomatoes and corn and could fix almost anything. We need to bring back pride in those skills. Fathers need to be side-by-side with their children, teaching them these same skills. The radical movement is about being self-reliant and sustainable in all aspects.

As a mother of four boys, I think a great deal about manhood’s future. Women are surpassing men in education and career opportunities. Part of this has to do with the perpetuation of pop-culture’s Adam Sandler-type man-child, and part has to do with the shift in available jobs in the developed world. However, when I look around the church, I see fathers who are learning to adapt to a new style of family life where they are more engaged and a mother’s goals are also being fulfilled.

So in raising my own boys, you can be certain I am teaching them how to drill into wood and mow a straight line of grass, but last week my 6-year-old made his own scrambled eggs, my 8-year-old sewed a pillow, and I taught my 9-year-old how to iron his own shirt.

I believe the Renaissance/radical father can thrive in today’s world, and the family will be better for it.

Tiffany Gee Lewis lives in St. Paul, Minn., and is the mother of four boys. She blogs at thetiffanywindow.wordpress.com. Her email is tiffanyelewis@gmail.com

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