In traditional cultures, such as Italian-Canadian, gender stereotypes were upheld and reinforced for generations. Many of us have memories of being raised by a stay-at-home mom or babysat by our nonnas. Dad may have been a looming presence – “Wait until your father comes home!” – but when it came to the day-to-day work of raising children, he was often a footnote.
Today, it’s common for both mothers and fathers to work full-time. Per Statistics Canada, the participation of women in the labour force has increased considerably since the Second World War. In 2015, over 80% of Canadian women aged 25 to 54 participated in the labour market, compared to just 20% in 1950. But it’s not just changing workplace demographics that are causing this shift. In the last few decades, we’ve seen more and more men who want to play a more active role in raising their children.
Flipping the script
Take Carmine Isacco for example. The Markham father of three (ages five, seven and eight) and his wife chose to turn the tables on tradition when it was time to decide how they would raise their children. “My situation is a bit different in that we started our family a little later in life,” says the 47-year-old. “Maybe because of that, I knew I wanted to be more involved with their upbringing so I decided to stay home with them. We didn’t even send them to daycare – it was me, full-time. I even taught myself how to make baby food from scratch!”
Isacco, who is the master coach of York’s University soccer program overseeing both the men’s and women’s teams, says he had a traditional Italian upbringing. “I was raised by my mother and my grandmother, who also lived with us. My dad would come home at night and say hello, but the day-to-day parenting stuff was up to the women. And it’s no fault of his. Men just weren’t expected to be a part of bath time and bedtime. The man’s job was to bring in money to support the family. I have a huge respect for the work my mom and grandmother put into raising us, which may have also influenced my decision to be so hands-on.”
Making it work
For Alfredo Rapone from Rivière-des-Prairies, being hands-on is all about choice and sacrifice. The 36-year-old and his wife both work; he is the owner of an electronic security company. His wife is currently on maternity leave caring for their 17-month-old twins. “A lot of the household stuff falls on her now because she’s home, but once I get home I take over. We chose to have a two-income household and we chose to each take on our share of the work. It’s not fair otherwise. I own my own business and work long hours but I still want to be present in my kids’ lives, even if that means working until midnight after they go to sleep.”
Alfredo Rapone at home with his twins, Massimo and Matilda, photo by Vincenzo D'Alto
Growing up, his parents both worked and he saw what kind of communication and sacrifice was required to run a household with two working parents. “It was very much an equal division of labour. My dad was very involved: dinners, discipline, you name it. He even helps out with the grandkids today. The only difference is that as a dad, he was Mussolini – with only slightly more leniency. He’s much more lenient with my kids!”
In the thick of it
With three daughters under the age of three, including twins, Lucio Baruffa had no choice but to roll up his sleeves and get involved. “Between diaper changing, feeding, playing, bath time and bedtime, it gets pretty hectic,” says the 41-year-old Dorval resident, who currently runs the trucking division of a Montreal-based startup. He is also part owner of a daycare centre. “And with the three of them being so young, you have no excuse not to help. You couldn’t possibly do it on your own.”
It’s a world of difference from the way Baruffa was raised. “My dad was the typical Italian dad,” he explains, “he didn’t get very involved when we were babies but gradually did a bit more as we got older. I remember him working constantly. It was different then – that generation was still trying to build stability. Our grandparents’ generation came here and had to work to survive. By the time my parents’ generation rolled around, they were busy trying to build stability. Now that we are more established and secure, thanks to their sacrifices, we have the benefit of spending more time with our kids. It also helps that attitudes have evolved. I sometimes wonder if a man who wanted to change a diaper 50 years ago could ever admit that to his friends!”
Baruffa adds that he is fortunate to have witnessed the evolution of his father, who is now a doting nonno. “It’s striking to watch my dad as a grandfather. He was the disciplinarian growing up, but with my kids it’s completely different. I’ve never seen so many little bags of chips and chocolates come from that man’s hands – it’s crazy!”Having more hands-on dads can benefit children in other ways. “Kids need to see that men and women can provide and contribute equally to the household,” says Isacco.
Fortunately, he says, the one thing that hasn’t changed within the Italian-Canadian community is the unwavering love of parents for their children. “Our parents lived for their kids and so do we.” Rapone agrees. “A strong family unit is the best gift you can give your child. It sets them up for success in life.”