How many sitcom episodes have you seen like this: Dad, who enjoys a work-work balanced life, is left completely at sea when the wife visits her mom on the weekend, and the house-train goes off the tracks.

The fumbling father is at sea, the kids eat cake for breakfast, they live in filth, and all clothes turn a shade of pink. Eventually, Mom comes home.

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A chastised dad glows with appreciation for his wife and a newly empowered mom goes back to making things work. Cue happy music.

Brother, those days are long gone. Family life today has become a world where Harry Chapin’s famous mopey paean to regret and bad parenting, “Cats in the Cradle,” is just a wistful reminder of how our dads left the primary job of parenting to Mom. No judgment.

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All of my fellow fathers did night duty with our infants, and as we have aged, that night shift has morphed into joint parenting — the negotiations with our wives about who leaves work when we get a call from the school nurse, or the kids have early soccer practice or a doctor’s appointment. Even among my friends whose wives — or husbands — have chosen to stay home to raise the kids, the negotiation is still about who does what on the weekends.

The concept of fatherhood has changed so much that keeping it together while the wife is gone has become a point of pride.

Who has time for a full day of NFL when there are soccer practices to get to, groceries to buy, lawns to mow, chores to accomplish?

But when the wife is out of the picture for a day, what happens then? Can you handle it? Is the house going to fall apart? Is Mom going to come home to empty beer cans and pizza boxes, kids who are wearing the same clothes they had on when she left, and multiple charges on NFL Sunday Ticket?

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The answer in our house, and in any real dad’s house, is: Of course not.

The primary reason is that we know the drill. The concept of fatherhood has changed so much that keeping it together while the wife is gone has become a point of pride. We don’t hold conversations about cleaning products over a beer (that’s never been a topic on Girls’ Night Out either, as far as I know), but it does mean there is as much pride in being a “master of the house” as in being a “master of the universe.”

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Today’s modern women who love us demand more of us. Statistically, they are now better educated than we guys, and the fact that they still make less money for the same job feels like some ancient holdover, like the appendix, that will just disappear over time. In our attempts to win the love of our often-working wives, male housework has become sexy. There’s very little my wife wouldn’t do for folded laundry, and what masculine pride would get in the way of that?

Here’s my personal and stunning secret: When Mom is out of town, things go smoother.

But naturally occurring gender roles still have their place. I admit that when it comes to calendar planning of any kind, my wife is a chess player when it comes to moves on the family scheduling board. My reptile brain simply does not work that way.

Conversely, I’m the muscle, figuratively. When things go south in the disciplinary arena, or something needs to happen now, I’m running the ship. I don’t spank my kids (though an occasional swat on the butt to get the team moving isn’t unheard of), and I try not to yell; but when dad uses “the voice,” things happen.

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My wife is happy to let me take on this role, even though it makes me the bad guy. Honestly, given the tiny amount of power granted me in the real world, ruling the roost provides a few opportunities to strut.

And here’s my personal and stunning secret: When Mom is out of town, things go smoother.

I’ll just let that sit there for a moment.

Note that this is only a short-term proposition. Going it alone doesn’t work without aftercare, committed neighbors, and a part-time nanny or day camp (at least during the work week), so I’m also speaking from the clearly jaundiced perspective of someone who can afford back up.

But for a long weekend, or even the marathon 10-day stretch, here are a few ways Dad comes out the big winner.

  1. There is no negotiation. Kids are good at the long con, and if Mom is around there is always ongoing dual-track bartering. When it’s just me, “this is not a democracy” has so much more meaning. If I’m at the helm, “no means no” and bedtime is at 8 p.m. sharp and that is that.
  2. Dinner is “different.” That doesn’t mean we eat pizza and cake every night. Veggies are always on the menu, dishes are put away, and food is (almost always) fresh and homemade. But things are just a bit “looser.” When all four of us are at home, we sit down together for a full meal. If one of us is out, that rule bends to make the whole affair less formal. Watching TV while having dinner, for instance, is an easy reward that makes everyone happy. And Chipotle isn’t far.
  3. Special rewards happen. Mom is out, we all miss her, but we also know that Mom dislikes Mexican food and hates Six Flags. When she’s out of town, we treat ourselves and head to the park if the kids do a few extra chores.

Beyond that, if you do the laundry — and put it away — keep the kids fed, and check a few simple, preferably tool-driven chores off the list, man, you’re golden.