Thanks to the active conversations on rejecting the impossible pressures of “having it all” and the debates on the relative merits of “leaning in” that have taken place over the last decade, we are beginning to have a more expansive view of motherhood in our society. When it comes to fathers, on the other hand, we continue to lean on the old trope that insists that a father’s singular – and most valuable – role in the family is to be the financial provider.
We treat a father doing his daughter’s hair like it’s a radical act. Or a noble sacrifice.
It’s time to expect dads to choose to be involved in the daily lives of their children, and to embrace them, but not feel compelled to sanctify them, when they do.
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Men Can and Should Be Active, Engaged Parents
In the same vein, we (particularly those of us who are mothers) need to evaluate, honestly, how we look at the non-financial contributions that dads make to the family. We need to recognize them, to value them, and to understand them as part and parcel of family life in our contemporary world.
I live in one of those Brooklyn neighborhoods that has more cops and firefighters than artists and tech entrepreneurs (though we have our share of those, too). It’s common to see neighborhood dads handling school drop-off and pick-up, going for walks with their kids, and taking them to the playground in the middle of the day.
In addition to the shift work that they do on nights and weekends (that may or may not provide the bulk of the family’s income), they are doing some of the heavy lifting of everyday parenting. This is not breaking news, nor is it a badge of honor. It is, however, important to recognize. It is important for children, fellow parents, and other adults to see that men can be – and are – engaged, capable parents. And that the support they provide for their families does not need to be tied to the check they bring home.
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Fathers in neighborhoods all over the US are choosing to fight for paternity leave, to shift their work schedules to accommodate the lion’s share of parenting duties, and to put their outside-the-home careers on hold to stay home with young children. As of 2018, dads make up an estimated 17 percent of stay at home parents around the country.
The Myth of the Father’s Role as Only a Financial Provider
Still, the myth of father as financial provider persists. Even in my progressive circles, I encounter it more often than I expect. More than a few times, I have heard comments like “isn’t it nice that you have a partner supporting your family so you can focus on your business.” That’s not really accurate, at least not in the way they assume. Namely, that my husband was the sole or primary source of financial support when I launched a business.
What he did do was support me by taking on more of the childcare duties, by baking cupcakes for school birthday celebrations, by accompanying our daughter to classes and activities, and by participating in countless other parenting tasks. More importantly, he supports me – and he supports our daughter – by making himself present in her life. His emotional availability and his consistent presence is valuable beyond measure.
A 2015 study published in the Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies by a team of psychologists — Asbah Zia, Dr. Anila Amber Malik, and Saima Masoom Ali — confirms the value of fathers spending consistent time with their children, particularly their daughters.
According to the study, this kind of involvement in a daughter’s life “shapes her self-image, self-esteem, confidence and helps her to achieve her goals.” The study goes on to point out that a father’s involvement “is an essential component in developing the daughter’s… positive self-image.”
A New Representation of Fatherhood
Despite advancements in so many other spaces, we continue to struggle with representations of fatherhood, and the collective expectations we have of fathers. Let’s expand our definition of what it means to provide for a family to include providing time, energy, and enthusiasm.
Let’s look not only at the importance of the financial support that a father (or any parent) provides, and let’s consider the value of emotional support and active participation in children’s daily lives. That is what our children will remember most. And they – and we – will be the better for it.
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