The evolving role of fathers: How to be a modern dad

What it means to be a 'modern dad' (WTOP's Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON The Don and Betty Draper days of parenting are over.

Now more than ever, raising a child has become a tag-team effort in households across the country. In two-thirds of American families, both parents work, meaning more men are helping out with tasks traditionally reserved for women, such as household chores and child care.

In fact, since 1965, fathers have tripled the time they spend with their children, and 57 percent of fathers say parenting is extremely important to their identity, Pew Research reports.

In 2012, 2 million dads stayed home full-time to care for their children a number that went up 4 percent from 1989 and continues to rise.

Chris Pegula has witnessed the evolution of fatherhood, firsthand. As a dad of three, the oldest of which is 18, Pegula has seen the image of the involved father become normalized even celebrated in modern society.

“Today, I see so many Instagram accounts of just dads and their kids, and just really enjoying the experience. It’s a really positive and exciting thing to watch,” said Pegula, who started Diaper Dude, a men’s diaper bag line, more than a decade ago.

In 2014, Pegula published a guy’s guide to pregnancy, “From Dude to Dad.” Now, he’s out with his second book, “Diaper Dude: The Ultimate Dad’s Guide to Surviving the First Two Years,” to help prepare new fathers for a hands-on adventure into family life.

Ahead of Father’s Day, Pegula shared some insights and advice for new and soon-to-be modern dads.

From the very beginning, get involved as much as possible

Not only will your partner thank you, but Pegula says you’ll also enjoy the early days of parenthood more if you step up your involvement from the beginning.

“That can be from going to the doctor visits, so that they’re learning about the experience that their partner’s going through, right up to tag-teaming once the baby is born and comes home with diaper changes, bottle feedings, bonding with your child. It really helps for you to stay grounded, connected and a part of the process, which is a bit challenging for men since so much happens physically, mentally, emotionally to women from pregnancy on,” Pegula said.

Being active and present in the first few months also helps to keep those common fears and anxieties that all new parents experience under control.

“Knowledge is power, and you really give yourself that gift of knowledge when you become involved,” he added.

Don’t neglect your relationship

When you bring a newborn into your life, priorities shift, making it easy to neglect your relationship. But Pegula warns that can easily spiral out of control and cause a great amount of damage. His best piece of advice is to go into parenthood with a strong foundation.

“There’s going to be times where you feel you’re not connected to your partner because of the stresses and strains of parenting. And if you can reconnect and have that strong base, it will be easier to be on the same page and feel supported, as opposed to that distance building,” he said.

It’s also important to be attentive to your partner during the first few months, since the mother’s focus is mostly on the baby. When your partner is feeding the baby, make her a plate of snacks — chances are, she hasn’t taken the time to eat. Encourage new moms to rest when the baby is sleeping or to take a relaxing shower.

“Talk to your partner, ask what they need,” Pegula said.

Your social life won’t be the same, but that’s not a bad thing

Chances are, you won’t be meeting the guys out for a drink three times a week after work or spending your weekends playing in daylong softball tournaments. And Pegula says, it’s likely your group of friends will change, but that’s not a bad thing.

Close friends will always be there, other friends might come back at a later point in life and you’ll make new friends with other parents who are going through the same thing as you.

“It’s not to say misery loves company, but when you’re struggling through certain times, it’s always nice to have friends and families that are experiencing the same thing you are so you can identify and relate on the same level,” Pegula said.

That said, it’s important for parents to maintain individual friendships outside of the relationship.

It’s the most rewarding job

It’s true what everyone says: time flies. So Pegula says to enjoy every minute — even the not-so-good ones.

“As difficult as it seems in the beginning, like it’s never going to end, I think being able to reflect and look back and just get that hug — even at 18 years old, my son coming and saying, ‘I love you dad’ … it really warms my heart,” Pegula said.

“And there’s no job in the world that can replace that feeling.”

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