Thursday, July 9, 2009

Who’s That With Baby at the Y? Why, It’s Daddy

July 8, 2009, 7:30 am

DESCRIPTIONPhotographs by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times Clockwise from top left: At a “Baby Boogie” class at the Prospect Park Y.M.C.A., Griffin Richardson holds his son, August, 6 months, during a parachute exercise; Randall Eliot, seen from behind, watches his son, Ike, 11 months; Bryson Nobles kisses his daughter, Adriana, 7 months; and Jeremy Harris tries to hold his daughter, Sophia, 8 months.

The classes were originally called “Mommy and Baby.” Then men started showing up one by one, infants in tow. A few months ago, the fathers had become so numerous that the Prospect Park Y.M.C.A. on Ninth Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn, changed the class name to “Parent and Baby.”

Even at the end of last year, the adults at the “Baby Boogie” class were almost exclusively mothers, and when a lone father showed up every now and then, he would become so uncomfortable that he disappeared quickly, recalled Sandy Phillips, director of family programs who also teaches the class. Now the men have reached critical mass.

“I used to think every child looked like their mom because I used to just see mom,” Ms. Phillips said. Now she estimates that one in three adults in the class is a man. On Tuesday, 6 of the 22 parents bouncing babies in their laps were men — sharing tips on constipation, discussing the joys of babies’ sleeping through a five-hour car trip.

One of them, Randall Eliot, father of Ike, 11 months, remembers being one of only two fathers in the class when he started several months ago. “The first week I was definitely glad to see another dad here,” he said. “Ever since then it’s been steadily increasing.”

The change appears to be the result of several factors: the economic downturn, a generational attitude shift concerning fathering, and a neighborhood where many residents have jobs with flexible schedules, some of which allow work from home.

The recession comes into play several ways. Some fathers are unemployed after being laid off. Other families are staggering their schedules to avoid the expense of child care. The recession has hit men harder than women, and if it proves to be deep and prolonged, it may lead to some adjustment of gender roles.

Mark Yarish was laid off from his banking job late last year, and he became one of the first men in the “Baby Boogie” class with his daughter, Abbie, who is now 10 months old. “He was a trailblazer,” said his wife, Margie Yarish, who has taken over from her husband now that he has started training to be a schoolteacher.

The larger participation of men at the Prospect Park Y.M.C.A. may be largely a quirk of the kind of families the neighborhood has attracted, since other Y.M.C.A.’s in the New York City area do not report so dramatic an effect. But programs in other cities, like Chicago, have seen a growing “Daddy and me” phenomenon in the last several months.

Mr. Eliot, who works in a restaurant, and his wife, who is a nurse, have staggered their schedules so that they take turns with Ike. Tuesday is his day. “We’re trying to avoid day care for the first year at least, and we’ve been pretty lucky,” he said.

Griffin Richardson, 34, who works as a sound mixer for “30 Rock” on NBC, is taking the summer off to take care of August, his 6-month-old son. His wife is a costume designer who is now working on a number of projects. “Our thing was that whoever got the better job offer would take it,” he said.

“I think I’m very lucky that I can voluntarily take time off from work,” he said. “If I had a straight-up suit-and-tie job, I wouldn’t have the flexibility.” He said he planned to be involved with his son’s upbringing on a day-to-day basis. “I’m the primary baby man,” he said. When he was growing up, he recalls, it was different: “Dads got weekends and sports.”

Bryson Nobles, 29, also said he planned to be more involved with raising his children. “Personally, I know I’ve always wanted to be at home with my child,” he said. He used to work in banking but now works from home, while his wife, a lighting designer, has the more demanding schedule. “I’ve worked to put some systems in place to make it happen.”

Fathers’ concerns vary, Ms. Phillips said. Some worry that since they aren’t breastfeeding, they may not “be bonding as much” with the baby, she said.

The presence of the fathers has changed the class conversation, too, she said. There is less discussion of post-birth discomfort, and the mothers watch what they say about breastfeeding, since words like “nipple” make the men blush, she said.

No comments: