Thursday, May 11, 2006

These Times Are A-Changin’: Trends in Fatherhood

By guest bloggers Natalie Frost and Adam Heckmann from the Family Life class.
(Part one of two)

Legendary anthropologist Margaret Mead once noted that fathers, while biologically necessary, were “social accidents.” We now know nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, young children benefit from their fathers’ involvement; fathers help foster verbal skills and emotional security. School-age children with involved fathers receive better grades, are less likely to be held back in school, and are less likely to be expelled (Nord, Brimhall & West, 1997). In adolescence, the closer children feel to their fathers, the less likely they are to participate in delinquent activities such as theft, violence, running away, disorderly conduct and weapons use (National Fatherhood Initiative). In addition, fathers help importantly shape the development of their children’s gender identities (Lamb 1997).

Most professed, however, are the failings of many fathers to play active roles in their children’s lives and the consequences that accompany such disengagement. Books like David Blankenhorn’s Fatherless America and David Popenoe’s Life Without Father expose the “crisis of fatherlessness” that has contributed to the various problems associated with youth: low academic performance, teen pregnancy, drug use and violence. These reasons, among others, prompted the development of the National Fatherhood Initiative in 1994, with Blankenhorn himself presiding as Chairman of the Board of Directors. Since then, there has been increasing research regarding the importance of fathers, the consequences of their absence, as well as a proliferation of resources that encourage dads to become active participants in their children’s lives. The National Fatherhood Initiative is at the forefront of the revolution to involve dads in whatever station of life they may be, whether incarcerated, divorced, or a single dad. While the absence of fathers remains an important concern, the burgeoning body of knowledge concerning their role appears promising by educating and informing the public.

The changing view of fatherhood can further be seen in its impact of the working lives of men. Before, men often defined themselves by their occupations and their ability to provide for their families. There has been a shift in men’s self-perception; where once they might have seen providing as their most important role, the necessity of their parental involvement is now clear, especially as more mothers than ever before are working. Society has accommodated these new views with paternal leave for fathers of new babies, more flexible work schedules, and wider acceptance of stay-at-home dads. Even the ultra-macho Men’s Health Magazine has jumped on the fathering bandwagon with an “All-Star Dad” contest, as well as a quiz, “Are You a Good Dad?” and an interview with singer Tim McGraw about his relationship with his own absent father and his young daughters. Restaurants and stores are keeping up with the times by installing changing tables in men’s restrooms across the country. Everywhere, communities are transforming to become “father-friendly.”

[Not all of their citations are available today. I will add them later. Ed.]

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