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ST. BERNARD, Ohio - Brian Klems isn't greeted at the door after a long day's work with a pair of loafers, a newspaper and a pipe while the smell of a pot roast wafts from the kitchen. As with many modern fathers, his wife is headed home from work, too.
Instead, Klems, 34, shares the joys and burdens of raising his three daughters – all under 6 years old – and taking care of the house, too. He's part of a generation of fathers who, much more than their fathers and grandfathers, take an active role in nurturing their kids and sharing the load of housework.
Klems, the online editor for Writer's Digest at F&W Media and a St. Bernard resident, ruminates on the subject of fatherhood in the modern era more than most, thanks to "The Life of Dad," a humorous blog that he began as a place to show off pictures and stories about his first daughter, Ella, who is now 5.
- Read: "The Life of Dad" http://thelifeofdad.blogspot.com
Turns out people liked it. A lot.
"I have 20,000 page views a month, which is way more than 11 that it started with," he said.
Klems has taken his life lessons a step further with the publication of his first book, "Oh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters," which was released in April.
He has a lot of fodder as the father of three girls – Anna, 4, and Mia, 2, round out the trio. They were a ball of sweet energy on a June evening when a reporter visited the family just after they came home from their sitter's and mom and dad got home from work.
They girls happily complied with requests to head to the backyard and pose for pictures around a picnic table and even more happily headed to their playhouse for some action shots. Soon, they were using decorative gravel as currency and taking their parents' orders for food that they were cooking up in their playhouse. There were smiles all around.
It is clear Klems is a very engaged father.
"I want to change the diapers and get them dressed and out the door and to get that hug dropping them off at my sister's," he said. "They're all memorable moments that I want to participate in, and we're all better for it."
New era, new rules
Brian's wife, Brittany, 35, is a database manager, and the couple rejects old stereotypes regarding division of labor at home.
"My wife works 40 hours a week, too, and she's just as worn out as I am. So when we get home, it's really important to share the responsibilities around the house but at parenting, too," Klems said.
The couple has figured out a way to play to their strengths.
"My wife is exceptionally good at getting my oldest to do her homework and getting all the girls to sit down at dinner," he said, "Whereas I'm particularly good at entertaining us all by playing hide and seek or with Play-Doh when the kids are moping around the house. We both excel in different arenas."
On Saturdays, Brian generally wakes up with the kids while Brittany sleeps in a little, and he gets the chance to nap in the afternoon when the kids are napping while Brittany does some chores.
Times change, roles shift
The Klems clan is not an anomaly, according to Dr. Barbara Arrighi, a sociology professor at Northern Kentucky University who has taught courses on marriage and family for two decades.
"We know that fathers are doing more at home than they were in the ‘60s. It hasn't increased dramatically, but they are doing more," she said.
Across the country, the shift in roles starts with economics, she said, as wages fall behind cost of living and few fathers have the ability to be the sole breadwinner. Providing financially is a kind of nurturing, Arrighi said.
Absent the old role, dads are seeking to do their part in roles previously reserved for mothers.
Arrighi cautioned that the change in society still has a long way to go before gender is taken out of the equation of who does what within the family.
She still hears her female students refer to their fathers as "helping" with house work, as if they're supporting mom rather than assuming their fair share of the chores. As long as responsibilities are framed in that way, the paradigm hasn't shifted completely, Arrighi said.
Klems has seen the difference in his family.
"The role of a father has dramatically changed over time. My grandpa was a good father, but he was working all the time. Grandma did the home labor. Dad was built in the same model, but he put forth a little more effort," he said.
Those looking to embrace new roles aren't helped along by pop culture, where Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin and other bumbling dads are still the rule.
"I think that fathers are being portrayed as buffoons, not capable of making decisions," Arrighi said.
How much of an impact that has on boys and girls who are forming their opinions of what it means to be a mom or a dad hinges on the parents, Arrighi said.
"It depends how much media children are exposed to without parental guidance," she said. "If children are exposed to all the negative portrayals of men and women without supervision, that's a problem."
She added that kids may be learning as much or more from gender roles in video games than TV shows, given how much time children now devote to video games.
The view from the Klems house
The portrayals of dads bothers Klems to an extent.
"I think it's okay to joke about it some, but it's important to recognize that dads are making an effort and and excelling at parenting," he said. "I want to be a great dad every bit as much as my wife wants to be a great mom."
As for Brittany Klems, she's happy with the arrangement.
"Brian is a very hands-on dad. I'm really blessed to have him involved as much as he is," she said.
There are surprises that come with the territory, though, she admitted.
"He has opinions on things that I would have never expected," she said, "Like when it's okay for the girls to have their ears pierced."
Brittany thought it would be cute for the toddlers to have piercings, but Brian thought it was too grown up for them.
"Seven is our compromise," she said with a smile.
Facts about American Dads
- 70.1 million: Estimated number of fathers across the nation.
- 24.4 million: Number of fathers who were part of married-couple families with children younger than 18 in 2012
- 1.96 million: Number of single fathers
- 189,000: Estimated number of stay-at-home dads
- Find more stats here: http://fatherhood.gov/library/dad-stats
Source: US Census (2012 estimates)
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