The Millennial Man Child Grows Up

man child

There is this myth that Millennial men are not ready to grow up and be fathers, that they are a bunch of man-childs who still have their mothers do their laundry and their dads pay their cell phone bills. Okay, so the last part about their parents paying their bills is sorta true. But the rest about Millennial men being inherently immature is a myth created and propagated by older generations. The truth is that Millennial men are growing up and not only are they ready to be fathers, they are aspiring to be the ultimate dads. Sadly, most brands haven't caught on to this change and are still targeting Millennial men as if they are in a different life-stage.

Sure, they want the babe and the Benz, but increasingly Millennial men are also aspiring to be great dads. For them, fatherhood is the supreme symbol of being a well-rounded achiever -- and Millennials desire nothing more than being well-rounded! In a recent global study, men of all ages said that the key characteristic in defining them as a real man wasn't their job, sex, or car but rather being a "great father." And 80 percent of Millennial dads reported that raising children brings them a lot of happiness. "Being a father has always been important to me," one Millennial father told me. "I don't think I ever could have fallen in love with someone who didn't want a child."

He is not alone. For Millennials, being a "good dad" has become the bling of adulthood, and they plan to approach it very differently from how their fathers did. That's not to say they don't respect their dads -- they are totally obsessed with their dads -- but they just plan on being a lot more present for the whole parenthood thing. According to a study conducted by Families and Work Institute, compared with men in 1977, these days far fewer men (about 32 percent fewer, to be specific) believe that men and women should subscribe to the traditional parenting roles -- by "traditional" I mean absent, breadwinning fathers and stay-at-home moms. As one Millennial film writer told me, "I don't feel the need to have to operate in the schema of working Dad putting food on the table and having a stiff scotch on the porch at the end of the day."

When they do fall into a more traditional parenting set-up, Millennials often feel as if they have somehow failed. "I would say we have a pretty traditional arrangement, in that I work to pay the rent and she is the primary caregiver. But I wouldn't say that that is 'a father's role,'... It's just my role," the same Millennial Dad said. "I think it felt somehow 'uncool' knowing we would be stepping into fairly traditional parenting roles. And we still struggle with it."

The whole paradigm of parenting is shifting. It has been normalized that in the modern family, parental responsibilities will be split more evenly. A recent Edelman survey of first-time fathers found that 82 percent feel that they share the childcare responsibilities evenly with their partner. Millennial guys that I talked to -- both fathers and not -- backed up this sentiment, with one childless twentysomething telling me, "The biggest difference is that there isn't a sense of a clearly defined role of a Dad versus a Mom. They are both in it together and will teach their kids what they can."

In the last ten years the number of stay-at-home dads has tripled, and according to the 2010 Census there are now 154,000 of them in the US. And some experts say that if the definition were broadened to men who had part-time jobs or worked from home, there would likely be millions more. Now, this is partially a result of the recession hitting more men than it did women, but it's also about a societal shift in which "real men" can be stay-at-home dads. To Millennials this makes sense, given that they were raised on the mantra that they could be anything they wanted to be -- yes, even a guy who changes the diapers -- in a world where boys were allowed to play with dolls and girls could be on the boys' football team. It's not just that Millennial men are making this decision, it's that they respect their peers who decided to ditch their cubicles for a crib. "I don't really see how you could not respect the decision to stay home to raise your children," another Millennial male said.

For years, brands have focused on women as the main purchasers for the household and the kids -- with everything from paper towels to snacks being aimed at mothers. But as the demographics change, some smart advertisers are catching on and aiming at fathers' heart strings rather than moms' purses. One recent ad that I think hits the nail on the head of this new approach to fatherhood is BBH's "Pals" spot for juice brand Robinsons. I won't spoil the twist for you, but just know it perfectly expresses the thought: It's good to be a dad.