COVID-19 has shaken up every corner of our lives. Going “out” for drinks with friends now means opening up a laptop in one’s living room, grocery shopping means a lot more time in the cleaning supplies and canned goods aisles, birthday parties involve slowly driving by a loved one’s house while honking, and handshakes became elbow bumps that have now evolved into awkward waves from a distance. For me, the biggest change has been to my role as a father.

Like many others during the pandemic, I made the shift to being a stay-at-home dad while working remotely. It has certainly been a challenge balancing my work, my kids’ education and general childcare, alongside my legal practice. 

It wasn’t long ago that we were all talking about the health effects of sitting at a desk all day. Right now, I consider it a gift any time I get to sit down for any length of time.

Phone calls and videoconferencing in a house full of children and dogs has been interesting. We have a rule that while I’m on a call, I am only to be disturbed in urgent situations. It turns out that my children and our pets have a different working definition of the word urgent than I do. 

Before COVID, the kids would often return home from school with their packed lunch half-eaten. Now at home fulltime, they are requesting snacks about every 45 minutes. Don’t get me started on the dogs.

The evolution of fatherhood

Fatherhood has gone through an evolution over the past few decades. The days when fathers came home from work, put their feet up and smoked a pipe while moms put the children to bed seem like ancient history. Household upkeep and parenting duties are becoming more equal between couples. In 1986, only 51% of fathers participated in household chores. By 2015, this number climbed to 76%, which still seems shockingly low.

Just forty years ago, it was almost unheard of for a father to be a stay-at-home parent. In 1976, only 1 in 70 of all Canadian families with a parent at home full time had a stay-at-home dad. By 2016, that number had jumped to 1 in 10. I wonder if this health crisis will result in that figure jumping again. Between the necessity of adapting to working from home, lack of childcare, and the impact on unemployment stemming from the crisis, staying at home will likely become more common and, in some cases, a necessity.

It’s interesting to note that at the turn of the 20th century, it was very common for children in lone-parent households to live with their father. Due to the rate of maternal mortality, about 40% of children in lone-parent households lived with their father. As maternal healthcare improved, this figure dropped to 15.5% by 1996 but climbed up to 20% by 2011.

As a family lawyer, I see fathers taking on various roles today. Many children have the benefit of multiple father figures in their lives. In Canada, 10% of children live with a stepparent. While less common, 1,900 children in Canada (as of 2011) were living with male same-sex parents. These numbers are on the rise.  

This Father’s Day, let’s celebrate the role in all its various forms. I’m looking forward to seeing all the new neckties on the next Zoom call, whether it’s for work or a virtual gathering of friends and family.

*Statistics cited here are from Statistics Canada

James Pullar-Evans Family LawBy James Pullar

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