Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Today's Father is Not Your Father's Father

Today's father is not your father’s father.

The changing role of fathers is really tied to the changing role of men in our culture.

As I look back over my life I can see how the role of "father" has transformed in just the last 30 years.  The signs are everywhere I look. 

Today when I go into the men’s room of a department store or airport or even along the turnpike and Parkway I see baby changing stations.  Obviously, I can't remember if my father change my diapers when I was a baby; but all evidence points to the fact that he had very little, if anything to do with that type of childcare 60 plus years ago.  Back then, not many men did.  That sort of thing was considered a mother's job, woman’s work.

Today there is a discussion in some circles to extend the family leave of absence to include men as well as women at the birth of a child.  A few years back,British prime minister David Cameron took time off to spend with his new baby girl, Olivia when she was born.  He became the first sitting prime minister in history of the United Kingdom to take parental leave.  Can you imagine Winston Churchill taking a paternity leave and changing diapers?

Television which either mimics or drives our culture at large (depending on your point of view) is a great way to understand our views on the role of father.

Take the television program Father Knows Best which stared Robert Young and aired from 1954 to 1960. It depicted what was then considered an idealized American family, where the father was the head of the household and he dispensed wise and unerring advice to his wife and children in his cardigan sweater.

Compare this to the image portrayed in the TV series Full House which aired from 1987 to 1995.  This series depicted a widowed sports-caster who is forced to raise his three daughters after the death of his wife with the help of his brother-in-law and good friend.

For the last 5 years the ABC Family network has aired a program (which I must admit I cannot watch) called Baby Daddy. It is about a man in his mid in his 20s, who becomes a surprise dad to a baby girl when she's left on his doorstep by an ex-girlfriend.  I bet he has had to change a few diapers.  The expression “baby daddy” brings an entirely new perspective on the idea of "father". 

Our ideas about father are inextricably connected to our ever changing ideas about family.  And as our culture redefines family, so is the role of father redefined.  

As more and more women enter the workforce, once common expressions like “Wait until your father gets home.’ become obsolete. And frankly “Wait until your mother gets home” just doesn’t have the same impact.

Some things never change.  Every person on earth has a father and a mother, and a  few days ago we had a special day set aside for fathers.  Like millions of people, I took time to fondly remember my father.

I especially remembered that by the time I realized my father was right about so many things, I had my own child who thought I was wrong about everything.