Father’s Day: from ‘fake mums’ to ‘new dads’
What is fatherhood? The accepted answer has changed hugely over the past 100 years. Now experts say that finally the role has found its healthiest and happiest definition. Can they be right?
This Sunday, fathers all over the world will wake up to cheesy cards, novelty ties and breakfast in bed.
Although Monday morning will probably see the return of dad once again becoming the butt of family jokes, for this one day of the year he is a big deal.
And big business too. Research shows that people are becoming more and more generous on Father’s Day. A study by Fortune magazine found that the average American shopper is expected to spend $134.75 on dad this year, on everything from clothes to meals out. As shoppers get more charitable, items like cologne, aftershave and razors have become more popular.
Fathers have, of course, been around forever. But it was only in the early 19th century that discussions of what a father should be reached public consciousness.
For much of that century, fathers remained “patriarchs”, leaders of their family, but distant from the everyday lives of their children. The novels of Leo Tolstoy are filled with cold, inadequate fathers whose children eventually see them for what they are.
The 20th century, meanwhile, saw a gradual movement to encourage fathers to commit to the responsibilities of parenting. They were no longer simply providers.
According to Lawrence R. Samuel’s 2015 book American Fatherhood, this meant that “male parents were urged to embrace the values and techniques of motherhood” — doing the dishes, changing nappies and performing the other household chores traditionally reserved for mums. Dads were urged to get to know their children, especially their sons.
But as Samuel writes in Psychology Today: “Many of the core values of motherhood, such as sensitivity, tenderness, and nurturing, encroached upon the universe of fatherhood over the decades.” Some fathers struggled to negotiate the “choppy waters of gender identity”.
And so the modern father has carved out a new niche. Instead of trying to mimic mothers, being a father has become a means of asserting, rather than denying or suppressing, masculinity. But are there more paths for fatherhood to take?
“This is the endpoint”, argue some. Fathers have now reached a happy medium: it is expected that they will help around the house, but the role of a father is clearly distinct from that of a mother. It is a mixture of softness and strength. Fatherhood has reached its very own “end of history”.
“Never believe anyone who says history has come to an end,” reply others. There are still so many problems around fatherhood to be resolved, such as the number of absent dads, the disparity in paid paternity leave and the problems fathers encounter when trying to see their children following a divorce. The story has a long way to go.
- Should we expect different things from mothers and fathers?
- Is being a parent “the most important job you can do”?
- Predict the way in which the role of the father will change next. Compare and discuss your predictions.
- Plan a publicity campaign to encourage young men to see the value of being a good father to their future children.
Some People Say...
“A mother’s love is automatic, unconditional. A father’s love was earned.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- That Father’s Day takes place on the third Sunday of June. However, this is not the case all over the world. In Catholic Europe, for example, it has been celebrated on March 19th (St Joseph’s Day) since the Middle Ages, whereas it is celebrated in early September in Orthodox nations. We know that the day has become more and more lavish as the role of fathers has changed through history.
- What do we not know?
- The future of fatherhood, and whether any legal changes will prompt another development in the story. We also do not know whether the traditional idea of motherhood, which has remained more static in history, will undergo a radical shift.
- Leo Tolstoy
- A 19th century Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. He is most famous for writing War and Peace and Anna Karenina. His semi-autobiographical work Childhood is largely about a young boy’s troubled relationship with a distant father.
- Household chores
- Though the British prime minister and her husband are childless, this debate recently raged in the UK when Theresa May said that there are “girl jobs and boy jobs” in an interview on The One Show.
- A report by the Centre for Social Justice found that “dad-deprived boys are likely to have low self esteem, fewer friends, and are likely to do worse in every single academic area.”
- End of history
- The term comes from Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay The End of History in which he argued that the advent of Western liberal democracy may signal the endpoint of humanity’s evolution and the final form of human government.