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The Changing Nature Of Fatherhood

When our fathers were kids, their fathers were held to a different standard of what made a “good” dad. At that time, a good dad was one who didn’t beat his kids, or get loaded every night of the week. He provided for his family financially, and maintained the larger scale projects around the house. In return, his kids rarely “bothered” him, depending instead on their mother for most non-financial, non-labour-intensive items.

Not much changed when our fathers began to raise us as children. They were still the “primary” breadwinners, and were expected not to be abusive. In exchange, they expected (and generally got) their “man time” to do what they wanted. The primary parenting came not from them, but from the mothers.

The above paragraphs are admittedly generalizations. Some dads of both generations I mention above were not like this. Some were worse, and some were better. But for the most part, this is a reasonable depiction of how the family dynamic played out.

In today’s world, fathers are so much more than they ever were in the past. Some are still the primary breadwinner with a wife who stays home and takes care of the children, while others are part of a dual-income partnership where neither is primary and instead both are equals. Some are even the at-home parent, leaving their wives to the previous generation’s “father” role as breadwinner, choosing instead to be the primary caregiver.

Regardless of which situation a father finds himself in, his responsibilities no longer end once the paycheque is in the bank. The father who works out of the home is expected to come home, take off his tie (or work boots) and be just as much of a parent as the old-school mothers were “back in the day”. The modern dad cannot get away with being an emotionally unavailable authority figure like those before him. Instead, he must tread the line, balancing between being a kind and loving man whom his children feel close to and believe they can confide in, and the strong, proud “manly” authoritarian of old.

Personally, I have embraced this deviation from what I learned. It was almost intuitive to me, to become a better father than the one I had. For a long time, throughout my adolescence and into young adulthood, I felt angry at him for being so distant. As I grew up, I came to understand the social pressures that pushed him into that role. That is not to excuse his behavior, but rather to explain it.

I swore that if I ever had children that I would not be that kind of father to them, and so far, I have been a very different dad. My daughter and I have special dates that are just for her and I to socialize. Sure, I take her to stores on weekend mornings while my wife sleeps, but we also go out for breakfast, just the two of us, and talk. I try to spend as much time as I can with her during the week, even if it is only a few short hours between the end of my work day and her bed time.

And yet with every passing day, I am aware of the fact that while I may be doing what I can to provide for my daughter’s emotional, physical, and financial needs, I may not be meeting them from her perspective. It’s not like my father knew he was disappointing me, right? So who is to say that 15 years from now I won’t have a daughter who feels as I did?

What do you think of how your father parented you? Were you satisfied, or did you want more? How do you (or your husband if you’re a mom) parent? Is he (are you) more emotionally involved than fathers of previous generations? How do you (does he) feel about it?

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