The responsibilities and roles of a father have evolved significantly - not only because society demands it, but because new fathers are driving change.
Gone are the days when fathers were solely seen as breadwinners, playmates or even distant figures in their children's lives.
Now, we want to be there, fully involved and actively shaping our children. There’s a drive, willingness and curiosity to be closer to our children. To nurture and support our kids in all aspects of life.
Gender roles no longer define a modern father.
We challenge societal norms by taking on household responsibilities, sharing parental duties with our partners, and promoting equal opportunities for both parents to pursue careers or personal aspirations.
There are varied family setups that challenge what a ‘father’ is. From classic mother/father, to step-dads, two-dads, adoptive or even father figures.
We need to start by understanding where we’ve come from to see what’s changed.
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What defines a 'traditional' father?
When looking for examples of a ‘A Traditional Father’, the archetypal stern caricature keeps appearing. The disciplinarian, responsible for the whole household including the children. - and indeed, this is the top link on Google.
“Briefly, the categories for traditional conceptions of parenthood include keeping house, taking care of child physically, training child to regularity, disciplining and making the child good.”
His job provides money for the family while his wife takes care of the house and kids. He sees his role as one of protector and provider. Keep them safe and happy and on the right road.
This harks back to our cavemen days. Man go hunting. Woman plays the nurturer. As time passed, the father-figure role evolved to make them mentors and teachers, passing down knowledge and skills to their children; preparing them for adulthood.
How much of this is accurate? And if it is true, is it more as a result of circumstance or will?
Even after the industrial revolution, in the main the ‘man of the house’ was out of the house working for the majority of the day. This left the mother at home looking after the child(ren).
When dad returned, after a long day at the office he may well have been ‘too tired’ to look after or spend much time with the children - or they may have gone to bed. Hence much of his relationship with them will have been at weekends.
Recollections of upbringing will likely focus more on the presence of the Mum, or even the absence of the father - not necessarily through choice.
Meanwhile, many men who inherited their views about parenthood from their fathers- and rather than change elements they didn’t like - they stuck with what they knew. They didn’t necessarily want to be aloof, but that’s what they grew up with and had no frame of reference for anything else. No internet or TV to introduce other father-figures or different influence (Hello Bandit from Bluey!)
Look underneath the stereotypes and you’ll find a lot of research relating to this over the years. The typical fatherhood role has always been more multifaceted than is commonly believed.
How did we get to the modern roles of a father?
In the 50s, and before, children were part of the family - but were ideally seen and not heard. Authority ruled. Children were free to entertain themselves, mainly outdoors. The routine was, as it is today, centred around meal times. Gender roles were still rigid - with fathers as bread-winners and mothers caring for the children and looking after the house.
Along with the shifting mentality to increasing freedom, in the 60s, children became a more welcome part of the family. Perhaps in part due to a less focus on ‘family time’ The rigidity of the nuclear family, while still there, became more flexible.
By the 70s and 80s - with women increasingly entering the workforce, the cracks in tradition truly began to appear. Modern conveniences and a continuing drive away from focus on a family meant parents could retain a sense of individuality. The family unit became less stable as women’s rights helped empowered the end of unhappy marriages - with divorces rising every year through the 70s and 80s.
The 90s and 00s brought with it a more involved parent (see helicopter parenting) thanks in part due to a worry over child safety. This led to an increase in rebellious children who didn’t like being continually fussed over, and yearned for freedom. Family time became more fleeting as kids could escape into their own worlds with screens and computers.
There are several factors, but broadly speaking these are the main changes that have contributed to the Modern Father.
It might seem disparaging to the other two factors - but quite simply, it’s nearly impossible to run a family household on a single income - as it was in the past.
This has led to both parents perhaps not just wanting to work, but needing to, to provide income for the family.
As a result, and thanks in part to flexible working, sharing childcare and household income has increased. Indeed, in 2015/16 43% of children in single-earner families were considered to be in relative poverty!
Dads appear to want to be more involved with their children than their fathers or grandfathers. This can be attributed to an increase in time at home due to flexible working, and the fact that being a dad is more central to their identity.
They’re spending 3 times more time with their kids than previous generations - Indeed, since 2020, the number of stay at home dads has increased: 1 in 9 dads are now primary caregiver.
Between 1938 and 2001, the number of working women doubled, from about 33% to nearly 60%. As equality, both in the work and at home, has received the attention it deserves, a work/life balance for both partners has become a greater focus. Thanks to increased scrutiny, many men are more aware of the disparity that came before - and are willing to be equal partners domestically and as a parent.
Interestingly in the piece quoted at the start of this section - written in 1949 - mention is made that the ‘traditional’ conception of the family is being discarded to create family units based on, “mutual affection, companionship and understanding with… desires and needs for..each member of the family”.
Perhaps our idea of “modern parenting” isn’t as recent a development as it seems.
What are the seven roles of the father?
The “Seven Roles of the Father” is a biblical approach to what characteristics a good father should have. It isn't as recognised as some other parenting frameworks but does provide an interesting starting point for what role fathers should take in their children’s life and development.
There are several versions of the 7 roles - but the ones listed here broadly cover everything.
Provider: Historically, fathers have been seen as the primary providers for their families. This role involves earning income to support the family's financial needs, but also can be seen to involve providing stability and assurance to their children.
Protector: Fathers help ensure the safety and well-being of their children. Increasingly, this is being seen as more of an emotional role, as well as physical, playing more alongside the Nurturer.
Teacher/Mentor: Teaching children important life skills, imparting values and sharing knowledge is a core part of being a father. Passing on their own knowledge, and advising when necessary.
Role model: Fathers tend to serve as role models for their children. They help sculpt their child’s early dreams and aspirations.
Nurturer: While nurturing tends to be associated with mothers, fathers can also provide emotional support, comfort, and affection to their children. Being emotionally available and providing love and care is essential.
Playmate/friend: Often the most favoured, and sometimes focused on to the detriment of other roles. The ability to be a friend as well as a disciplinarian, means treading a fine line but can be immensely rewarding.
Disciplinarian: Both sets of parents need to work together to establish boundaries and rules for their children's behaviour. They play a role in teaching discipline and responsibility.
Are the seven roles of the father realistic?
Times have changed since the roles were first posited. In the fast-paced and ever-evolving digital age, fathers face new and unique challenges in their role as parents.
The 7 roles feel like a good set of values to lean on. The essentials remain the same whatever era you’re in. Be a good person, treat others as you would unto yourself, and so on.
Each role, much like the alethiometer, now has nuances and layered responsibility that has evolved over time.
The digital age has also brought about new challenges for fathers. Not only how to teach their children about balancing screen time, and as they get older, their online presence.
Fathers often find themselves navigating the fine line between being present for their children while also managing their own digital lives.
In an era where children are exposed to various influences through media and technology, it becomes crucial for fathers to set positive examples for their children. Competing with many role-models from their screen means more focus is required on demonstrating healthy habits, promoting emotional intelligence, and fostering open communication.
Additionally, mental health is something that fathers need support with. As we touched upon recently - it’s possible for dads to get post-partum depression. Thanks to the pressures of work-life balance, financial responsibilities, and shifting societal expectations - a father’s wellbeing can also be put under stress.
It is essential for fathers to prioritise self-care and seek support when needed in order to maintain their own mental health while being there for their families. We also need to take time to remember who we were before children - and make time for us and our relationships.
None of this takes away from the same, if not worse, pressures that mothers have been dealing with for centuries. Thanks to these increased responsibilities and battling against the engrained culture, perhaps it can be viewed as father’s teething pains, as we come to terms with and adapt to our new way of living!
Ultimately, we’re all just doing our best and being there for our children. How we do that is up to us, and it varies from dad to dad, and this has been the case since we first became fathers!
Are there other ideas about the role of a father?
Absolutely, as we mentioned earlier in this piece, there are various frameworks devised by academics and psychologists about what a father is and the roles he has.
Historically, fathers were seen to have three roles in their children's lives; protector, provider and disciplinarian.
What does the Bible say about the role of a father?
Millions of people around the world look to the Bible for guidance on all aspects of their lives, and being a father is no different. There are plenty of teachings about parenting and fatherhood in the Bible, but here are some of the best known and most common:
- Be your child's first teacher
- Exemplify a good life
- Provide for your family
- Discipline your child
- Spend (engaged) time with them
- Show compassion
- Don't provoke your child
- Never give up on your child
- Pray for your child
Are the roles of a father different to the roles of a mother?
The shifting landscape of gender roles has created a certain blending of the roles of a father and a mother. It's arguable that very few people would look at the list of seven roles of a father above and disagree that they would apply mothers, too.
Just like with fathers, there are various different frameworks offering a range of different roles (and sometimes just different names for the same roles). Here are five of the most common:
- Provide love