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The role of the father is changing in the 21st century household


The American family is ever-changing. The “Modern Family,” if you will, finds fathers taking on a much more active role in caring for children inside and outside of the house.

The changing role of fathers has also introduced new challenges as dads juggle the competing demands of family and work. For example, fewer dads are the family’s sole breadwinner. Years ago it was the natural family dynamic that men would be out working and women would serve as homemakers and caretakers. No so anymore. The Pew Research Center took a look last year at the changing American family and found that, among couples rearing children under age 18, about one fourth comprise families where only the father works and roughly two-thirds are in dual-earner families. If you compare this finding with similar studies conducted 45 years ago, almost half of married couples with children under age 18 were in families where only the father worked.

“Bringing home the bacon” today

The phrase “bringing home the bacon” has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. In 1965, the average father spent about 2.5 hours each day taking care of children, compared to 10 hours for the mom. Today it’s about seven hours a day for fathers who may opt to remain at home while the mother takes on the professional work day. Back then, fathers could be counted on to spend about four hours each day doing housework, but jump ahead to 2017 and that time spent has increased to seven hours on the average. In an unexpected twist, however, the Pew study found a mixed public reaction about the changing role of the father. While only a small share of people (18 percent) believed that women should return to their “traditional” roles in society, “breadwinning” is still more often seen as a father’s role as opposed to the mother’s responsibility. About four-in-10 people surveyed (41 percent) said it was more important for the father to provide family income. Only 25 percent said the same for mothers. And while about three-quarters of respondents said having more women in the workplace has made it harder for parents to rear children, a majority (67 percent) said this scenario has made it much easier for families to live comfortably.

As the share of dual-income households has increased, the roles of mothers and fathers have begun to converge. Again, we go back 50 years to find father’s time being heavily concentrated in paid work, while mothers spent far more time on housework and childcare. Over the years, however, fathers have taken on more housework and childcare duties. In fact, they’ve more than doubled the time spent doing household chores and have nearly tripled the time spent with children since the early days of the Vietnam War.

More men dream of having a family

The old image of the stoic, “strong-as-a-rock” father is also changing. Today, both moms and dads equally believe (58 percent and 57 percent respectively) that parenting is extremely important to their identity as a person. At one time, it was only girls who dreamed of marriage and children. Now more fathers are admitting that they, too, held these childhood dreams. The “rewards” of parenting was also equally split among both spouses (52 percent for moms, 54 percent for dads) in that the positive expectations of rearing children had been largely realized. And when asked if parenting is “enjoyable all of the time,” you find that dads—and not moms—had a slightly more favorable response (46 percent to 41 percent respectively). These findings suggest that today’s dad may see his parenting responsibilities as more central to their identity than did their father or grandfather.

The Pew surveys found that, just like mothers, many of today’s fathers find it challenging to balance work and family life. Fully 52 percent of working fathers said it is “very” or “somewhat” difficult to concentrate equally on work responsibilities and family matters. This represents a slightly lower share than the 60 percent of working mothers who say the same thing, and about three-in-10 working dads (29 percent) admit that they “always feel rushed” as do 37 percent of working mothers. As well, working fathers are as likely as working moms to say they would prefer to be at home with their children, but that they must work because they need the money to maintain a stable household. Forty-eight percent of those men with kids under 18 years said they’d prefer to stay at home, with a roughly equal share of men stating that, even though a full-time job takes them away from those they love most, they want to keep working as long as their finances require.

Dads want more “quality time”

Dads today spend more time with their children than in the past, but many say it is still not enough “quality time.” Forty-six percent of fathers and 52 percent of mothers said they personally spend more time with their kids than their parents did with them. Very few in the survey said they actually spend less time, but even so, many fathers believe that they’re not doing enough. Roughly half of the fathers (48 percent) said they spend “too little” time with homework, playing ball, etc. with their kids, but only 25 percent of mothers said likewise. Also, only 39 percent of fathers said they are doing a “very good job” of rearing their kids, while 51 percent of mothers were confident they were doing a good job of parenting.

A number of factors may define the changing role of fathers, among them the growing population of women in the workforce, a still unsteady economy and, to some degree, stale cultural stereotypes in that more men are delaying marriage, fatherhood and a domestic lifestyle in general.

“The traditional image of the father is one of lawgiver, moral arbiter, disciplinarian and CEO of the home economy” said Jeremy Adam Smith, author of “The Daddy Shift: How Stay-At-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family.” He explained that today’s fathers don’t occupy the stereotypical role of “master of the house” as popularized on old television shows and in advertising campaigns of the past. “This old view was the opposite of the mother, who submissively cared for [her] husband, children and home. Now these responsibilities are more equally shared by both parents.”

The “stay-at-home” dad

More fathers are remaining home to care for their children. In 2012, seven percent of fathers surveyed in a Pew study said they were not working outside the home. Although this may represent a tiny fraction of fathers, their share represented an increase from four percent of dads not working outside the home surveyed 20 years ago. A significant portion (23 percent) of these “stay-at-home dads” said they wanted to care for their family. Twenty years ago, the primary reason why many fathers stayed at home was because of illness (56 percent), but that number has fallen steadily over the years, down to 35 percent by 2013. Public attitudes toward stay-at-home dads and stay-at-home moms still differ. While about half of Americans (51 percent) think that a child is better served with a mother at home—as opposed to the workforce— only eight percent say a child is better off with the father looking after them at home.

Many surveys of fathers have revealed that most dads would prefer to stay at home, but can’t because of economic reasons (i.e. the mom also works and the cost of daycare for toddlers rises each year). conducted a survey of 1,521 working dads and found that roughly 37 percent said they would leave their job, if a spouse or partner made enough money to support the family; 38 percent would take a pay cut to spend more time with their children. In a survey conducted by the National Fatherhood Initiative, men were asked to specify the biggest obstacle to being a good father and nearly half of all respondents said “work responsibilities.”

Parenting comes differently to fathers

While many men are choosing to share in child rearing and helping to run the household, obviously the connection between mother and baby begins long before the delivery room. Moms must make conscious diet and lifestyle choices during the conception period. Once pregnant, there are 10 months of growing and shoving, kicking and elbowing. For the dad, the connection with the child largely begins in the delivery room. In other words, when the baby is born, dad is there on “day one,” while the mother is on “day 300.” Because fathers come into the parenting process differently, more men today are taking the time to learn the skills they need to be a good dad.

For some men who have reared children before, it can be an easy process. For many first-time dads, however, it can be a “trial-and-error” process sometimes requiring outside resources or a “network” of new fathers who can share and give advice about the parenting experience.

Mothers have “mommy-and-me,” lamaze classes, breastfeeding/lactation instruction, but there is generally no such learning curve for the majority of first-time fathers.

This year, the National Retail Foundation (NRF) expects a record $15.5 billion in Father’s Day purchases. Most Americans (39 percent according to the NRF) will probably buy a gift from a department store, compared to 33.7 percent who will shop online. The typical Father’s Day shopper will spend about $135 for a gift, roughly $8 more than last year. And as shoppers get more generous, items from the personal care category such as cologne, aftershave and razors tend to be less popular than high-end purchases.

Celebrate your dad on Sunday

“It’s encouraging to see that consumers are spending on special occasions such as Father’s Day,” said Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO. “This is a positive sign of strong consumer confidence heading into the second half of the year, and a good deal for all the dads who will reap the benefits.”

As is customary, most dads will like any gift presented to them on Sunday … as long as it “comes from the heart.” It can be breakfast in bed, an offer to take on the “honey do” list or, for the adult child, maybe time well spent with a cocktail and good conversation. The following gift ideas are available either online, at fine retailers or, locally, at the Antelope Valley Mall:

—Men’s wooden charging station and valet ($159);

—Outdoor wooden beverage container ($249);

—Five-piece whiskey decanter glass ($59);

—Personalized golf balls (starting at $20);

—Bourbon BBQ Experience (sauces/spices $79);

—Father’s Day meat and cheese medley ($59);

—“Close to His Heart” photo canvas ($39);

—Men’s 5-Star plush robe ($89);

—Canvas and suede travel backpack ($119);

—“Dad” clock ($39).