Book Review: The Daddy Shift by Jeremy Adam Smith

I know my review of The Daddy Shift arrives a little late in the game, what with author Jeremy Adam Smith already getting tons of pub in everything from the New York Times to US News and World Report. But I got my copy for free and I owe the author a big favor. Plus I totally enjoyed reading it.

A little background: When my daughter was an infant I worked two days a week in an office as a professional fundraiser. To save money on childcare costs and because we dearly wanted family members as primary care providers, my college professor husband juggled his schedule to either stay home with our baby those two days or else take her into work. She drooled around campus while Dada met with students, attended faculty meetings (with baby in the sling), and edited manuscripts. When it was time for my hubby to teach he a hired graduate student to push the baby around campus in her stroller and deliver her safely to the classroom at the end of the lecture.

For this, my husband received limitless praise and accolades from friends and colleagues. “What an amazing dad to make so many professional sacrifices.” “What a good man he is shoulder so much of the burden of childcare at the expense of his work time.”

I always imagine what the reaction would be if a woman did those exact same things. Would the same praise have been heaped upon my shoulders? Or would it be more like “Why can’t she get a nanny?” or “If her heart isn’t in it, why doesn’t she just quit her job and be a full-time mom?”

Our early family situation is just one of many reasons I was drawn to the book, The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Fathers, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting are Transforming the American Family.

The second reason is (full disclosure) that our family knows Jeremy personally and we like and admire him. The third reason is (double full disclosure) my husband’s story gets mentioned in the book as both a stay-at-home-dad and an academic researcher on the significance and meaning of fatherhood.

Personal reasons aside, I still dig this book. It takes an unflinching look at both the day-to-day realities and the larger cultural framework that surrounds nontraditional families made up of fathers who at least do some of the primary care providing while spouses go out and earn the proverbial bacon.

Here are several reasons why I encourage you, as a thinking parent, to take my advice and read The Daddy Shift.

This book has a casual, natural, first person voice. Not erudite, academic or precious. Charming first-persona narratives richly illustrate a wealth of highly researched data, creating a tier upon tier of highly readable, yet highly credible material.

Which leads me to my second reason. This book is backed up by solid evidence. In both depth and breadth. Smith shares the fruits of many in-depth qualitative interviews conducted with his fellow daddy-care-providers, always backed by solid statistical data. The language, while often passionate on the subject matter is level-headed and non-judgmental of the choices made by the families in question.

I’ll admit that I initially assumed that most these non-traditional families only exist in blue-state coastal sorts of cultures that are chock-full of unusual family structures where anything goes. Not so. A large chunk of the care-providing daddies interviewed are solid Midwestern types with corresponding conservative values.

Stay-at-home-dads are an overlooked, undervalued group that deserves more than a pat on the back for their supposed heroic sacrifices. And Smith ends his book with a bold call for policy action that is quite feminist in theory and progressive in reach. A truly egalitarian society offers paid paternity leave as well as maternity leave. And true “family values” need to embrace all forms of family structures.

Whether you are a stay-at-home parent, a working parent, or someone (like most us) who straddles the great divide between the professional and domestic spheres, you will find something of value in The Daddy Shift. So what are you waiting for? Run out and read it!

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