The Changing Role of Fathers

Eleven year old Alisa fights back her tears, as she says of the father she only sees on week-ends, “I want to spend time with him, but he’s always too busy. I don’t think I can ask him to just be with me.” Secretly she is afraid that she is not worthy of his time. How do you think she got that idea?

Typically, fathers have seen their primary role in the family as that of provider, and across the centuries, they have fulfilled the provider role.

That was the case in my house. My dad went to work early in the morning, and for most of my life he came home just in time to have dinner with us. He was considered a good dad because he was a good provider. As was also typical of that period, my father played the role of disciplinarian. I heard the phrase “wait ‘till your father gets home” a good deal while I was growing up.

It hasn’t always been the case that fathers would go off and “kill meat” to provide for their families. Once upon a time, when we lived in an agricultural society, fathers worked on the land. Since they were home virtually all of the time they could be intimately involved in the lives of their families. Dad was around to ask permission to date his daughter, and he was able to have a direct influence on the choices and decisions his children made. Dad knew who the daughter was pining for, he knew if the son was sneaking into the home brew, and he could tell right away if the rifle was missing from the top of the mantle.When America became more industrialized, fathers were called off the land to go to work in the cities. They still played the role of provider, and perhaps even disciplinarian by default, but by having to leave the home to work, they also had to leave their ability to directly influence their children. Not all families did it this way however.

My friend Michael is a potter, his wife Debra is a corporate executive. For the entire time their two boys were growing up, Michael worked at home, so he was the one to see the school report card first, participate in the parent run cooperative pre-school, or rush to the doctor for stitches. He is a lucky man to have been able to participate in his children’s lives to that degree. They were all lucky.

When my sister-in-law was killed in an automobile accident, my nephews were three and four. After struggling with work and day care for several years, my brother eventually moved his family to a farm in Kansas. He wanted to be there with a snack when they came home from school. He wanted to be more to them than the provider, and he found a way to do that by working from his home in a small Kansas community.

It’s interesting to notice, that with recent developments in technology, men again have the ability to work from home and make themselves available to their families. Parenting isn’t like it was in the 1950’s when dad had to leave the home to make a living and it took mom all afternoon to prepare the evening meal. Parents today have infinitely more choices, and children are the beneficiaries.

The whole point of this article is to stand up and cheer you hard working fathers who have decided to have an influence on your children’s lives, as well as do your part by being the provider or disciplinarian. I applaud Marcus and Betty who negotiate their work schedules so someone is home with their three children. It is not uncommon for Marcus to help put the children to bed, then return to the office to work into the evening.

I envy my friend Dave who gets to work at home in front of his computer three days a week. He will learn things about his children by just being in the same place with them, that will be invaluable.

And I applaud my best friend Bob who has decided he can take time from his second job to attend his son’s basketball games. These men are an inspiration to other men, and their sons.

It has been my experience that men want to do the best they can for their families. Alsia’s dad works hard to make a living, and I bet if he knew that Alisa needed a little of his time as well, he would give it to her. Like William Shakesphere said,

“It is a wise father who knows his own child.”