“Superdads”, How Fathers are Changing

Zamir Ode

Professor Gonzalez

GSS 101



Book Review on Superdads by Gayle Kaufman


More often than not, moms are associated with picking the kids up from school, joining the PTA, and helping kids with their homework on top of their day job; while dads are seen as the breadwinner for the households. Up until the mid twentieth century, the traditional family household was the most popular household structure. In the traditional family, the husband is supposed to devote his life to work to make enough for his family, while the wife is supposed to take care of the kids and household chores. However, roles of both parents have been changing since the 1950s. According to Gayle Kaufman’s book, Superdads, there are three types of dads: old, new, and super (Kaufman 2013). By going through and interviewing 70 different fathers, Kaufman was able to create these categories based on the information given by each father. Through out the book, Kaufman shows through these interviews from different “categories” of dads how each differ with the involvement in their child’s life and how the gender roles of parenting are changing for both men and women.

In Kaufman’s book, she starts to lay out her point about the changing gender roles by describing how dads are starting to become more involved in their children’s lives and leaving behind the title of breadwinner. According to Kaufman, dads can be broken down into three categories: “old”, “new”, and “super”. Kaufman goes on to define these different categories of dads. “Old” dads are defined as the dads who still follow the traditional family household belief, where the man has a job and is the only source of income to support his family while the woman stays home and takes care of the kids. The “new” dads are defined as those who try their best to balance work and family life. These fathers spend time with their kids on the weekdays, but weekends are when the most time is spent with their kids. Then, there are “super” dads. These dads put the caregiver role ahead of the breadwinner role. These dads want to spend as much time as possible with their kids, and feel like they have an equal responsibility of raising the kids. Defining these types of dads early in the book was an important way for Kaufman to set up the flow of her book. Throughout the book, Kaufman shows how these types of dads make choices in response to certain variables of life, i.e. stress, time, and money.

Kaufman begins to describe how these different categories of dads have stress level that vary. When interviewing the 70 fathers, Kaufman found that the “old” dads who are so focused on being a breadwinner were reported to have the highest level of stress regarding work/family life. These dads are so worried about getting extra hours at work to make extra money to be able to support their families as well as worrying about family issues causes high levels of work/family related stress. Kaufman uses one of the fathers, Erik, as an example. In the introduction she introduces him as a father of 2 children who recently took a job at a larger landscape firm for the better economic opportunities. These opportunities came with longer hours which cost him time with his kids. These new hours made Erik have more to balance regarding work and family, which led to more work/family related stress. However, the “super” dads have the lowest stress levels regarding work/family life because they put caregiving first and then make flexible work schedules that will allow them to change hours or drop a shift if something family related comes up. In most interviews done by Kaufman, each father told her that they experienced a changed outlook on work once they had kids. Fathers were quoted to say that before kids, they were spending a lot of time at work, even offering to stay after hours and work overtime since they did not have any other big responsibilities that needed as much time. However, once these fathers had their first born, these fathers were now trying to juggle a full work week to make enough money to support their new family on top of getting home early enough to spend time with their new born and take part in the caregiving process. Multiple fathers said in their interviews that if it were possible, they would change occupations in order to spend more time with their children.

Kaufman furthers the differentiation of the three “classifications” of fathers by asking these 70 fathers about leave from work when their child is first born. It is expected that when a woman is giving birth, they take a maternity leave to take care of the baby for a few weeks. Even though there is no legal requirement for a paid maternity, a lot of companies and institutions have a maternity leave policy. Fathers, on the other hand, are not expected to miss time when their child is born. Kaufman writes that by the 1990s fathers were taking time off for their child’s birth, but it was minimal. Now, fathers are able to take more time off for their kids, but the amount of time they are able to take off is decided by a few economic factors, since this leave from work is unpaid. During the interviews, Kaufman was able to see a pattern of timetables fathers were bale to take off: no time to a short period of time (a few days), about a week or two weeks, and then more than two weeks. These time allotments were mostly dependent on economic status of the family, and income levels of the father. Fathers with higher incomes were more often likely to take more time off when their child was born than those fathers with low income levels. One of the interviews Kaufman did was with a father named Barry, who is a gardener. Barry explained that he was only able to take about two days for the birth of his daughter because that is all he could afford. Since he was paid by the hour, hours he did not spend gardening for people was less money he had to support his family. Even though fathers are now supposed to play a bigger role in the caregiver aspect of their child’s life, the father is still expected to be the financial crutch the family can lean on when the mother is out of work (Kaufman). These fathers still had to go to work to make sure there was money to support their wives and now their new born children. To me, this point about unpaid paternity leave is a positive and negative way to further the point that gender roles for parents are changing. On the positive side, Kaufman shows that fathers who are able to take the time off to be with their new born can be super dads, however, they are only able to be super dads if they have high income jobs. Even though Barry the gardener wants to be a super dad and take off as much time as possible to be with his newborn, he is unable to since his low income household needs all the money it can get. Throughout the book, Kaufman talked about father’s roles changing with regards to involvement in their kids lives. However, this point almost makes it seem like she believes you have to be at least upper middle class to be able to take the time needed to spend with your child, and be a super dad.

Kaufman did a lot of research through different fields of scholarly papers and books. However, her main method for data collection was interviews. Kaufman states in the introduction of the book that her method for research was interviewing different fathers. Kaufman interviewed 70 fathers, and put these fathers into three categories that she defined as different types of dads. Then, she asked questions to each father regarding how time, money, and work impact their relationship with their kids. This book did a good job showing how these different factors impacted the different groups of dads differently.

Throughout the book, Kaufman references multiple professionals in multiple fields, being psychology, sociology, and gender studies. However, the professional that is brought up and referenced more than the others is Arlie Hochshild and her now-classic Second Shift. In the Second Shift, Hochshild writes about the revolution of women starting to flood the work force and how the roles of employed mothers are changing. Hochshild also compares these to change in men’s roles, which to her are “lagging behind women’s changes.” Kaufman uses the Second Shift platform, but uses it for the change in men’s roles. Kaufman acknowledges that women’s roles have changed immensely over the past 50 years, but says that now men’s roles are changing. The entirety of Kaufman’s book was differentiating the types of dads, and also about men’s roles are changing in the family dynamic. Men used to associate the number of hours worked with masculinity (Kaufman 2013). However, this misconception about masculinity is changing, and men are abandoning the role of breadwinner and becoming more involved in their children’s lives. These changing roles of men show how Kaufman uses the basis of Hochshild’s Second Shift to further her own point.

Gayle Kaufman is an author, professor, wife, and mother. Kaufman currently is a professor at Davidson College in the sociology department. She gave birth to her and her husband’s second child after her husband finished law school. Her husband, Kevin Bell, decided to stay home and take care of the kids while Kaufman continued to teach classes at Davidson. Her husband was the inspiration to find out more data about the changing roles of fathers, and write the book Superdads.

One strength of this book was they way Kaufman made her data personal. I was very impressed with how well this book was able to differentiate the types of fathers based on interview answers, as well as show the pattern that follows through each group. In each chapter, Kaufman provides specific answers from each father to further pursue the point. However, to me this book could have been organized better. The book has an introduction, which shows the main focus of the book, which was to point out the three types of dads and how they differ in family roles. Then the book goes into time constraints and paternity leave, then back to the main focus for the rest of the book. I believe that chapters 2 and 3 could have been broken down and spread across the book rather than have their own chapters. I believe that it took away from the book because the organization of information was confusing.

In Kaufman’s book Superdads, a new viewpoint on father’s roles is presented. The book breaks down the three types of fathers: old, new, and super. By interviewing 70 different fathers from around the country, Kaufman was able to make these classifications, and put these 70 fathers into one of the three. Throughout the book Kaufman shows how each type of father differs with different economic and social conflicts regarding time with family. This was a very well written book, as well as it was very interesting. I believe her method of research was perfect, and her method really added to the realness of the information.


Work Cited

Kaufman, G. (2013). Superdads: How fathers balance work and family in the 21st century. NY: New York University Press.