As American life has changed dramatically in the past few decades, so too has the role of fathers — often in important and even unexpected ways. Today’s dads aren’t just known for bringing home the bacon; they’re sharing the practical and emotional work of parenting with their partners or even shouldering it on their own. This Father’s Day, The Recovery Village wants to give dads the credit they deserve by recognizing how much their roles have changed and grown over the generations.
Unlike pops of the past, modern-day fathers aren’t expected to be slightly distant breadwinners and disciplinarians. Among couples living with children under the age of 18, only 27 percent are part of families where the father is the sole jobholder. These numbers have changed dramatically since the 1970s, when fathers were the primary earners in nearly half of all families.
Some men are now shedding the role of financial provider entirely and settling into stay-at-home parenthood. In 2012, 7 percent of U.S. fathers, or roughly 2 million men, were stay-at-home dads. While this number still represents a fairly small fraction of fathers, it’s nonetheless significantly higher than the 4 percent reported in 1989.
As attitudes about a father’s role in his family evolve, so too do ideas about what kind of men can be loving parents. Two-father households are slowly becoming more accepted in the United States as scientists and sociologists support the rise in gay parenting time and time again. Single fatherhood is also growing and shedding its stigma. In 2011, the number of single dads in the United States had grown to more than 2.6 million, up from fewer than 300,000 households in 1960. Cultural shifts are making room for dads of all sexual orientations, marital statuses and lifestyles to raise children.
Sharing Is Caring
Decades ago, most dads worked full-time jobs while their wives stayed home to cook, clean and raise children. Today’s dads are stepping up to the plate and pitching in with housework and childrearing duties. In 1965, fathers spent an average of 2.5 hours on childcare and four hours on housework per week. In 2011, men did seven hours of housework and 10 hours of childcare per week. These shared duties have allowed mothers to pursue fulfilling paths outside of their families, and made room for fathers to be more of an emotional presence in the lives of their children. Everyone wins!
What’s in a Name?
It’s not just moms who are gushing about their children in casual conversation anymore. More and more often, modern dads are identifying as just that: fathers first and foremost. While “Dad” may have been a secondary title for olden-day patriarchs, you don’t have to look further than most Instagram bios to I.D. a proud papa nowadays.
Recent studies back this emerging trend. During a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, 57 percent of dads reported that fatherhood was extremely important to their identity. This makes fathers just as likely as mothers (58 percent) to say that parenting is an important part of their lives, and proof of a culture-wide step toward equal emotional investment in childrearing.
An Open Book
Unlike the straightlaced pops of the past, today’s fathers have lived pretty open lives. Social media and technology document the good, the bad and the learning experiences. While some old-fashioned folks may rage against the benefits of this transparency, it appears to be part of a greater (and important) move toward openness and honesty. Many modern dads refuse to shy away from conversations with their children about a whole range of topics, including their pasts. This could explain the results of a 2005 Gallup Youth Survey, where 73 percent of respondents between the ages of 13 and 17 reported that their parents trust them as much as they deserve to be trusted. With honesty comes trust.
Fostering close relationships between parents and children doesn’t just make family life more pleasant; it helps promote mental health and resilience, too. Studies show that kids who have good relationships with their parents are less likely to be depressed and anxious, and more likely to develop self-reliance and self-esteem. Tough talks about drug use also pay off. Teens whose parents discuss the dangers of prescription drugs are 42 percent less likely to abuse them than teens with tight-lipped caregivers. Being open isn’t just freeing for fathers; it helps foster healthier and happier children, too.
In decades past, the influence of fathers was vastly underplayed by scientists and spouses alike. Dads were seen as insignificant figures in the lives of their children, only influential in terms of how well they provided for their families. But things are different now. We see fathers for all they can be. For all they are. We notice the hard work you do, dads, and we appreciate it. We’re better because of it.