2001 The World and I
by Patricia Fry
Fathers in America
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Fathering is finally fashionable. But because their role models are
outdated, countless men are struggling in this capacity. Today, fatherhood
doesnt necessarily imply a wage-earning married man who lives with the
mother of his children. The concept of dear old dad has taken on new dimensions
thus creating greater challenges for men who want to fulfill even the basic
requirements of being someones dad.
Our neighborhoods are filled with estranged dads who pay child-support for
the privilege of spending every other weekend with their kids. Too many of
these men become walk-away fathers, leaving millions of our children
dangerously deficient in the dad department. At the other end of the spectrum,
the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures reveal that over 2.75 million of our
children are being raised by their fathers.
We read a lot about the challenges and joys of motherhood in todays
changing world. But how are Americas fathers fairing in their
relationships with their children? In a recent study, 74% of the men polled
said they would rather have a daddy-track job than a fast-track job: they want
jobs with fewer demands and more flexible hours to allow more time with their
Those who are blessed with time for their children, often feel unsure about
their role as nurturer, teacher and disciplinarian. Fathering skills were not a
part of their upbringing either by example or education.
The Legacy of Fatherhood
Todays parents, whether their children are 5 or 55, grew up in an age
when a father's primary responsibility to his family was financial. Our fathers
typically worked all day and came home to relax with a hot meal, the newspaper
and a favorite radio or television program. Mother, whether she worked outside
the home or not, managed the household and childcare duties.
For the most part, twentieth century fathers limited their parenting to that
of ultimate decision-maker. While children commonly brought important issues to
Mom's attention, Dad had the final say. Dad was to be feared when youd
been naughty. Who doesn't remember Mom saying, "Just wait until your
father gets home," and you spending the rest of the day in anticipation of
your punishment which was rarely as bad as you had imagined.
Children growing up during the first two-thirds of the last century
certainly interacted with their fathers, but these encounters were usually
brief and carefully orchestrated to fit his agenda of work and relaxation.
Typically, family discussions, over which the father presided and which often
included behavior issues involving the children, took place at the dinner
table. Sunday afternoon was reserved for family activities and customarily
included extended family members. The women prepared a meal and the men lit up
their choice of tobacco and engaged in manly conversation. The children were
relegated to the play yard.
While many adults today certainly recall special and close moments with
their dads, some remember their fathers as stoic and emotionally distant. For
these children, there were no rough and tumble playtimes, no father/child
togetherness activities and no spirited family discussions around the dinner
table. Some adults remember living the concept in their own homes that
children should be seen and not heard.
We were not to disturb father when he was relaxing, which was
just about anytime he was at home, recalls 48 year old Timothy.
Mother would prompt us to walk on quiet feet and use our
whisper voices. He never had the time or, I guess, even the
inclination to get to know us kids. I don't remember him ever hugging, kissing
or tickling any of us. As far as he was concerned, we belonged to mother.
Steven (47) tells a similar story: When I grew up and had children, I
didn't have a clue as to what a father should do. Us baby boomers didn't
have much to go on as role models for fathering. My dad seldom spoke to us kids
about anything unless it was something he liked to discuss, like football. I
hate football. We were never taken anywhere. Dad spent his vacation time
working around the house. My brothers and I have few fond memories of growing
up. What we do remember and what I still carry with me, is the pain of Dad's
emotional and physical absence.
Although it would be inaccurate to lump all twentieth century fathers
together, its clear that parenting skills were not generally a mans
priority nor was it something they felt was within their area of expertise.
They had wives who adequately tended their children and they saw no need to do
anything more than bring home the bacon.
The Shaping of the American Family
In any society, the family is shaped primarily by sociocultural and
socioeconomic trends. It was the Industrial Revolution that had the greatest
influence on the contour of the family in which most of us grew up.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, American cities were growing and
business was flourishing. Lured by higher wages and the opportunity for a
better life for their families, men left their farms and small home industries
in great number and went to work in offices, stores, factories and mills.
In an article appearing in the February 1995 issue of Minnesota Parent
Magazine, Neil Tift, cofounder of the Fathers Resource Center in
Minneapolis, Minnesota describes the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the
family, For hundreds of years, child-rearing was the shared
responsibility of both parents. Cottage industries, which prevailed from the
Middle Ages until the late 19th Century, permitted mothers and fathers to live,
work and raise their children together within the home. This benefited the
entire community. Those who needed bread went to the home of the baker who made
and sold or bartered the bread from his cottage. If someone needed a horse
shod, he went to the home of the blacksmith. Parents taught their own trade to
their children or sent them to the home of the tailor or candle-maker to
apprentice in a preferred vocation. With the advent of the Industrial
Revolution in the early 20th Century, our society witnessed the wide-scale
separation of the male from the household. Fathers became employed outside the
home in greater numbers to toil in factories and assembly lines and
womens work expanded to include total responsibility for tasks within the
home, including child-rearing.
While men were excited about meeting the challenges of this economic
awakening and were quickly caught up in the competitive spirit of the day, they
also felt a sense of loss. They missed their children and their intimate
connection with their homes. Convinced that their new work away from home was
in the best interest of the family, however, fathers soon swallowed their pain
and vowed to work better and harder for the family.
World War II tore deeply into family unity when, in many cases, both parents
were forced to leave the home. While fathers sacrificed their all in battle,
the nation's mothers took jobs to support their families and their country.
When the war ended, most women gave up their wartime jobs and returned home
to their children and the rightful breadwinners, our fathers, went back to
work. Men had a new focus now; to create a better life and a more secure future
for their families. This became the American dream.
The Woman's Influence on Fatherhood
Despite the family mans attempt to give his wife everything under the
sun and his desire to keep her at home, she became restless. Over the years,
her job as homemaker had been devalued by a male-dominated society and she
began to resent being known as just a housewife.
Men were creating for themselves some exciting new challenges within the
world of business and politics. To women, whose days were filled with cleaning,
laundry, ironing, baking, diaper-changing and the constant demands of active
youngsters, their husbands lives seemed fascinating. Men were achieving
and being acknowledged for their accomplishments. Women longed to be
appreciated for their efforts but knew they would have to accomplish something
outside the realm of homemaking and mothering to become praise-worthy.
In the meantime, working women noticed that their contributions in the
workplace were not receiving equal compensation as those of their male
counterparts and that they werent being given equal opportunities for
advancement. Women began banding together to speak out on these issues and a
movement was soon in motion. Thus began the most significant reshaping of the
American family since the Industrial Revolution.
Former stay-at-home moms seemed to thrive in their new role as working
mothers and they quickly adjusted to the demands of juggling home and work.
Many men, however, objected to their wives working.
While some men succeeded in delaying the inevitability of their wives
joining the workforce, theirs was a short-lived victory as the '70s ushered in
a sluggish economy that required new strategies. Eager to help boost the family
over the financial hump, many more mothers joined the ranks of the employed.
In most instances, the two-paycheck family was born of necessity, but it
still wasn't an easy concept for fathers to swallow. Men were reluctant to
accept the fact that they could no longer single-handedly support their
families. And women cut even deeper into their husbands' wounds by asking them
to help out at home.
Oh, how the game of life was changing and women were making up the new
rules. Women were now working shoulder to shoulder with men, so the measure of
a man could no longer be defined through bread-winning. Men, attempting to
recoup their sense of maleness through home and family, failed to meet their
wives' strict standards. It's no wonder men were confused. Disappointed,
disillusioned and wounded, segments of men set out in search of a new male
The More Involved Father
In their desperate need to redefine manhood for themselves, they were forced
to explore their significant male role models. For many men this was an unhappy
journey as it opened the wounds caused by their own fathers emotional or
Some men learned how to heal relationships with their fathers through
understanding and forgiveness. They vowed to be a very different kind of dad to
their own kids. And a trend was in motion.
Young fathers became eager to involve themselves in their children's lives
even before they were born. Men were invited into the delivery room. Doctors
urged fathers to bond with their new babies equal to the mother through
cuddling and care. Parenting classes began including men. Fathers rearranged
their schedules so they could accompany Mom and the baby to the pediatrician.
And Dad even started taking baby out by himself.
Some fathers, desirous of spending more time with their children, began
rethinking their career choices and postponed or changed careers for the sake
of more time with their families. Countless others, still wounded because they
could no longer support their families in the changing economy and unwilling or
unable to accept more responsibility within the family, bailed out and left
their families to fend for themselves.
In the Wake of the Recession
The recession of the late 1980s pushed even more fathers over the edge in
both directions. Corporate cutbacks punched families below the belt and the
concept of company loyalty became just a memory. More women were forced into
the job market whether they wanted to go or not and fathers were expected to
share even more in childcare and house work.
Millions of fathers were caught in the crossfire of downsizing their
positions suddenly obsolete. Most tried to find new jobs, but discovered they
were virtually unemployable in an economy gone sour. In fact, of the 11.7
million Americans who lost their jobs between January 1981 and January 1990,
one-third of them remained unemployed. No longer able to afford their
lifestyles of choice, American families were forced to consider creative new
options role reversal, for example.
Some men, who were unable to replace their jobs, agreed to stay home with
the kids while their wives accepted whatever work they could find. For many
fathers, this was degrading. But, while some of them felt devalued in their
role as househusband, others found great satisfaction in it.
Peter Baylies of North Andover, Massachusetts, took his infant son out of
daycare and became the primary caretaker after losing his job. When he and his
wife noticed what a positive effect his being home had on their family life,
Baylies decided to stay home permanently. According to Baylies, My wife
no longer worried about our son being in daycare. There were no more two-hour
commutes or worries about weather or rush hour traffic. And my sons
Dan and Kim Dunsmore noticed a shift in their daughters demeanor when
Dan started staying home with her, too. Dan was a teacher in Charlottesvile,
Virginia, Kim, a physician and theirs was a decision more than something that
was forced upon them. When their daughter was 6, Dan quit his job. He said,
I did this for her sake, but also for my own sake, for my wifes
sake for the sake of the sanity of the family. He explains,
When wed all get home in the evenings, everyone was so exhausted
that we just couldnt spend any time together. It finally hit me,
whats the point of everybody leaving the house at 7:30 in the
morning and coming back home too tired to even function together. We were
living lives away from our daughter and we had created this neurotic 5-year
old. This just didnt make sense to me anymore.
What are the benefits of being an at-home dad? According to John Slevens of
Berkley Heights, New Jersey, Ive developed a closeness with my sons
that I never could have if my wife was still with them all the time.
Mark Colantonio a Hollister Massachusetts firefighter who is the primary
caretaker for his small son when hes home says, I dont think
a lot of fathers have a chance to get this close to their children.
The Reality of Paternal Imprinting
But the transition from working Dad to caretaking Dad isnt easy for
most men. As Kelly Gene Davis, in an article for Full-Time Dads, says,
I was not raised to care for children nor to clean house and cook meals
for I was a boy and these areas were unnecessary for me to learn.
Dr. Bruce Gladstone of the Gladstone Counseling Center in Ojai, California
is one professional who is greatly bothered by the fact that society is so slow
to recognize the importance of the fathers involvement within the family.
He explains, Since women carry and bear our children and are physically
equipped to feed them early in life, it has been assumed quite naturally that
they are better suited to child-rearing than fathers. Nurturing and caring for
a child has traditionally been regarded as woman's work and
Even before the Industrial Revolution, men hunted, grew crops,
constructed buildings, made and sold products, waged war and women cared for
the children. Most boys and girls rarely experienced their fathers as a source
of warmth, affection, softness, nurturance and emotional support.
Today, were asking men to be fathers. But boys need a living example
of what it is to be a man and a father. Lynn Weeks, a family and marriage
counselor in Ventura, CA, understands this need. Looking back now, he says,
I needed to be confirmed as a male, which I think is, perhaps, the most
essential thing I needed from my father. My father was present, but absent. In
his absence, I relied entirely upon the blessings of other men and upon the
approval of my peers.
Many experts believe that boys without strong male role models are at higher
risk of becoming gang members as a fatherless boy is as likely to look to a
gang leader for support and guidance as he is a boys club leader, teacher
or church leader, for example. If he's carrying around the unresolved grief of
abandonment, he may even lean toward the gang leader for in that environment,
he'll surely have the opportunity to act out his anger.
Breaking The Cycle
Some boys grow up to become the fathers they wanted despite lousy role
models. Anthony (36) recalls, "I can remember how it felt to look out into
the audience of parents when I was in a school play or to scan the spectators'
bench when I was playing sports and seeing that my dad had not shown up again.
I don't ever want my kids to feel the way I did back then. I take a genuine
interest in their activities. Not only is this a plus for them, but my
involvement is helping me to heal my own father-longing."
Forty-year-old Gerald stopped the cycle of fatherlessness in his family.
Raised by an alcoholic mother and an abusive, alcoholic stepfather, Gerald has
few happy childhood memories. According to Gerald, "I was alone a lot,
either at home or waiting in the car for them to finish `one more drink.' I've
never felt I was very important to them. To this day, Dad never calls or
writes. When I call him, he just makes excuses why he has to get off the phone
right away. I have my own kids now. They're great kids and I spend a lot of
time with them.
"People who know about my childhood sometimes ask about my strong
involvement with my kids. I tell them, I just try to be how I
wanted my father to be. I wish things had been different for me,
but I can't do anything about that. I can help to make life good for my kids,
though," says Gerald.
Ronald, too, has grim memories of his childhood. He says, "Dad was
drunk and always coming home late. I lay awake listening to him beat Mom, her
crying, him loading guns while giving us kids names to each bullet,
watching him choke her to unconsciousness and on and on. I ran away from home
for the first time at age 14. I got heavy into drugs and alcohol. I stole cars,
broke into houses. From age 16 to 18, I was mostly incarcerated a total
loser. Now I have three sons and they never cry themselves to sleep because of
what Daddy's doing to Mommy. They don't feel a wave of terror when I come home
from work. Thank God they'll never know that terror."
Help Is On The Way
While some men are successfully working their own way out through the mire
of negative paternal imprinting, more and more programs are becoming available
for those who need help.
Charles A. Ballard, founder and president of The Institute For Responsible
Fatherhood and Family Revitalization, for example, believes, "Too many
fatherless boys end up fathers themselves, extending their legacy of
hopelessness to a new generation." And he says, "Fatherhood is inside
every boy at birth, but the kind of nurturing he gets from his father will
determine how far it goes."
Through his Institute he tries to take up the slack where former generations
of fathers have failed. He works with young fathers to help them build their
self esteem, resolve issues with their own fathers, find solutions to problems
with the mother of their child, learn parenting skills and get decent work.
Ballard, who started this program in Cleveland and is in the process of
expanding it to other states, says that 97 percent of the 2,000-plus fathers
who have graduated from his program are now more involved fathers who help to
support their children.
Are programs such as Ballard's necessary? It seems so. It's obvious that
boys aren't learning parenting skills at home. And, as Dr. Gladstone points
out, mainstream society isn't providing in this area. According to Gladstone,
"I'm worried about how we teach young boys to be fathers or young girls to
be mothers. It seems like our schools don't concern themselves with these roles
"The most important things that are going to happen in your
life is being married and trying to have a long-term relationship with
somebody. The reason for doing that is so you can raise a family and society
can have a certain level of prosperity and stability. Yet we neglect the
teaching of those things. We assign them to the family or to religious
organizations, both of which don't really work out too well."
The effect of fatherlessness and the decline of the traditional family on
America's children and the future of our society is an extremely serious
matter, and were seeing the repercussions now.
Every father is responsible for the lessons his children learn. A child with
access to her father learns about life and living through interactions with
him. Fatherless children learn from their fathers, too. They learn not to
trust. And they learn to live with the pain of rejection. While some fatherless
children carry on despite the pain, others transfer their pain to others
through violent acts.
Men who think their part in their childs life ends with impregnation,
need to take a very serious look around them. Divorced women who dont
believe their children need their fathers in their lives, are wrong, wrong,
wrong. Fathers are not expendable, disposable, unnecessary or replaceable. They
are vital to the future of their children.
Most men become more involved parents, not through peer pressure nor an
innate desire to do so, but through his wife's urging. They stay involved,
however, because they discover that they love being with their kids. Still,
many dads won't admit how much they enjoy fatherhood. They think that other men
wouldn't understand it if they said, "I won't be attending the company
awards banquet tonight, I'd rather spend the time with my kids." or
"I choose not to go fishing with you this weekend because I want to
support my son in his first soccer game."
The New Fatherhood
There is a shift taking place within our families today. Men are
slowly being educated
about parenthood and their vital role as a father. Theyre being
encouraged to become more involved. And they're having some positive examples
placed before them.
Houston Oiler tackle David Williams, for example, caused a stir among his
football colleagues and fans, but made a strong statement about a father's
devotion to his family in the face of work demands, when he missed a game to be
with his wife during the birth of their child.
Entertainer Billy Joel quit his scheduled tour to spend time with his
Country music superstar Garth Brooks put his sky rocketing career on hold to
become an active family man.
It's common for mothers to give up or postpone their careers for the sake of
their families, but when a man chooses fatherhood over his career, that's news!
Although probably not quite big enough to be considered a movement, there is
motion a pioneering effort toward the reconciliation of fathers
and their sons and fathers and their daughters. But, as with anything new, no
matter its merit, there are stumbling blocks and fathers are finding them
Issues around work and family are a major source of inner conflict for many
men. They don't want to miss out on watching their children grow up, nor do
they want to see their families financially stressed. While some men have the
courage to down-shift their careers in order to be a more significant part of
their children's lives, others can't bring themselves to cut back and lower
their standard of living. And the truth is that government and the corporate
sector are slow to support the efforts of men who want to be better fathers.
"It's a tough," says Dr. Gladstone. "I know what men are
going through, because this is an issue for me, too. I'm gone too much and I
worry about this. I try to be home as much as I can and yet, economically, it's
difficult. My wife and I wanted to find a way to save money so I could free up
more time to be home. We thought that a basic way to do that is to have a lower
house payment and we decided to get a smaller house.
"What we found out is that if we sell the house we're in,
we'll lose our investment to capital gains taxes because we're going to buy a
house that doesn't cost as much. We would be punished for doing that. We only
get rewarded if we buy a house that's more expensive and that puts more demand
on me to have to work more hours and have to be away from my children
Both parents in two-thirds of all two-parent families work today. And many
modern couples enter parenthood expecting to share the responsibilities
fifty/fifty. Some parents are so good at it that they transcend parental gender
boundaries and become practically interchangeable. But many others struggle to
adjust: he to her level of expectation and she to his level of willingness and
ability. The working mother knows she can't do it all. She wants help. But does
she want to relinquish control?
Dr. Michael K. Meyerhoff is the executive director for The Epicenter, Inc.,
the Education for Parenthood Information Center in Wellesley Hills,
Massachusetts. He wrote an article recently for Parent and Preschooler
Newsletter, reflecting the mothers tendency to discourage the father
from becoming involved in the day to day routine of their children's care. He
writes, "Most new fathers who attempt to participate in the care of their
young children discover they are awkward and ineffective and they quickly
become discouraged. While most new mothers initially welcome the efforts of
their husband, they soon decide to step in and take over all tasks in order to
ensure the well-being of their children and spare their spouse further
He continues, "Are modern-day males doomed to failure despite their
admirable intentions? Are they fighting against insurmountable biological
obstacles? No. Once again, we are merely dealing with mental attitude, not
inherent aptitude. A father who will pursue childcare tasks with ease and
proficiency is simply a father who has never been led to believe he
Dr. Meyerhoff advises, "Mom, lighten up, step back and give your guy a
decent chance. Dad, dismiss your doubts, ignore the interruptions and don't let
the difficulties get you down. Just do it."
When asked (and men rarely are), fathers report that theyre
overwhelmed by fatherhood. One nervous first-time father said, "It's scary
to think that this little being is totally dependent on me and that I, along
with my wife, are wholly responsible for his well-being, his childhood and his
future. It's exciting, but it's scary."
Dr. Pamela Jordon has focused her last fifteen years of research toward
first time fathers. In an article for Modern Dad Magazine she urges new
fathers, Establish rituals or routines that allow you to spend some time
with the baby every day. You could put the baby to bed every evening or
handle bath time and breakfast every morning, for example.
According to Dr. John Robinson, director of the Americans' Use of Time
Project at the University of Maryland, a study of 5,000 American men and women
between the ages of 30 and 50, showed that even though men's involvement in
household work and childcare is now double what it was in 1965, women still
handle 2/3 of the workload at home.
It's difficult for men to just take over from a woman who has set the agenda
who, for generations has been groomed to handle the details of home and
family. As Brent McBride, director of the Child Development Laboratory at the
University of Illinois points out, "If we want men to change behaviors, we
have to help them do so. We're putting this expectation on men to do more but,
as a society, we aren't providing them the institutional mechanisms to make the
Fathers lacking the education and experience, rely on the direction and
rules set by the more knowledgeable parent, the mother. Thus, a father alone on
an outing with his children or at home alone with his children is often
considered a baby sitter.
Paul Kandarian, an editor at the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton,
Massachusetts and a father, objects to being called a baby sitter. He says,
"There is no part of my day that I enjoy more than when I come home to be
with my children. For all the aggravation of parenthood, for all the time it
takes, for all the nights spent up with them when they're sick, for all the
broken toys stepped on, for all the diapers changed, for all the scraped knees,
for all the sticky, slimy and smelly moments of it, I wouldn't trade a single
second of my life as a father for anything else in the world. When I put my
kids to bed each night I love them as much as I possibly can only to
wake up the next morning loving them a little bit more." And he ends the
article by saying, "Let's hear a baby sitter say that."
Stay-at home dad, Peter Baylies shares a similar sentiment, I
dont expect to go back to work. The rewards of this job are too great.
Every time I put my son to bed and he says, I love you Daddy, I realize I
did a good job that day. I could never get that sort of satisfaction from any
This is excerpted from Patricia Frys book-in-progress, Fatherhood
and Fathering; The Ultimate Guide For Todays Dad.
For more information:
Newsletters and Magazines
Peter Baylies, publisher
Family Policy and Washington Watch
Family Research Council
National Fatherhood Initiative
web site: http://www.fatherhood.org/
Jeff Hill, publisher
Chris Stafford, editor
Modern Dad Magazine
Shaun P. Budka, Publisher
web site: http://www.moderndad.com
The Epicenter, Inc.
The Education for Parenthood Information Center
Dr. Michael K. Meyerhoff, Director
Families and Work Institute
James Levine, Director
Family Research Council
Gary L. Bauer, President
web site: http://www.frc.org
Bruce Linton, Coordinator
web site http://www.fathersforum.com
Fathers Resource Center
Neil Tift, Director
Institute For American Values
David Blankenhorn, President
The Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization
Charles A. Ballard, Founder
Contact, Danita Berry
National Fatherhood Initiative
Wade Horn, President
National Parenting Association
Sylvia Ann Hewlett, President
Suzy Yehl Marta
web site http://www.rainbows.org
Patricia Fry is the author of A Writers
Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit (Matilija Press,