Being a dad today isn't what it used to be — and, for the most part, that's a good thing.
That's what TODAY's Al Roker, Craig Melvin and Carson Daly discussed on Wednesday during a panel on modern fatherhood, hosted by NBC Universal and moderated by TODAY Parents editor Rebecca Dube.
"The role of fatherhood has changed fairly dramatically over just the past 20, 25 years," said Craig, who recently launched a new digital video series called "Dads Got This!" "I mean, our dads were not able to be as involved in the lives of their children, for a variety of reasons, as we've been able to be involved."
"My dad was a third-shift mail clerk at the post office for 40 years," he continued. "We did not expect him to be at Little League games or after-school functions. He just couldn't do it. ... I look around at the Little League games or basketball on Saturday mornings, and often times, there are just as many dads as moms."
The benefits of paternity leave
One big factor that makes fatherhood today is different? Paternity leave.
Al recalled how his old boss offered him just one day off when he adopted his first child, Courtney. "It was a big fight," he said, pointing out that today many companies have paternity leave policies. (Which is a great thing, as research has shown that men who take paternity leave have better engagement with their children, and researchers have even suggested that husbands who take time off are less likely to get divorced, too.)
"It's still not where it should be, (but) more and more companies are far more friendly about paternity leave, and I think that's very important," he said. "You need to have that time."
"We've seen this rise of female executives who get how important that is," Al added. "It's a little easier to get that family time. I think that's been a big change and allowed us the ability, to have permission, to be dads."
Does helicopter parenting = modern parenting?
The anchors all agreed that the recent shift in how fathers are viewed — as equal partners in child-rearing, not just "babysitters" — is crucial.
But Al suggested that they can still take a tip or two from their parents' generation.
"We want to make sure everything is just so for our kids," he said. "And with our parents, there was space. Granted, it was a different time. But we were allowed to make mistakes."
"You went outside, you went to the park," he added. "There were slides, they were made out of galvanized metal. You'd get on there, you'd get third-degree burns going down! But you were expected to go out and when the street lights came on, you came in. And they gave you your space. I think sometimes we can be a little too hands-on with our kids. Maybe sometimes we should be a little more like our parents."
Craig and Carson agreed, and Craig even shared a funny parenting moment when he and his wife realized their now 5-year-old son was hooked on a somewhat fancy food.
"We knew we had a problem in our house when my boy — and he's still into it, but not as much as he used to be — but he was into yogurt, but it had to be Fage yogurt," Craig said, referring to a brand of Greek yogurt.
"We had to toughen him up, cut him off yogurt altogether," he joked. "No, but it was sort of a come-to-Jesus moment, like, 'What are we doing?!'"
Carson's tip for traveling without kids
Laughs aside, being a working parent comes with sacrifices, and the anchors also talked about how difficult it is to be on assignment in another state, away from their families for often extended periods of time.
"I don't think anybody gives us credit for being emotional," Carson said. "I'm very sentimental with my kids. When I'm driving to JFK (airport) and I'm going to be gone for five days, it really does suck."
But he's come up with a way to make all the time away from his family suck at least a little bit less.
"I realized that in the hotel rooms, there's postcards," he said. "So I thought, wherever I go, whatever hotel I'm in, I'm going to write my kids postcards, and I'm going to buy them a stamp and I'm going to put it in slug mail, and now they collect them."
The dads talked about how important it is to recognize the sacrifice that each parent makes.
Carson said that when his wife, Siri Daly, goes away without the kids, she's reminded of how difficult it is for him to leave for work trips. And when she travels and he's stuck at home with the three kids, he's reminded of how difficult her mornings are while he's working at TODAY.
"I see her, and I'm like, 'Dude, you're a warrior,'" he said.