My usual theme is one that focuses on the retro, but I am quick to acknowledge that there are some things that we do better in the 21st Century and I think the role of the father in families is one of those things. In the past there has been a much more concrete separation of gender roles within the family, with the father performing much of his role outside the house being responsible for providing financially for his spouse and children. Within the home the father was often overly involved in disciplining children and less so in engaging his kids in play, becoming involved in activities or showing love, affection and gentleness. The father needed to maintain the typical masculine stereotype, especially towards male children. Mother’s on the other hand were the care-givers, the nurturers, the source of calm, gentle and loving affection.
Over the last few decades these gender specific roles have blurred as women choose to work outside the home, even with very young children, sharing the responsibility of bringing in an income, and men find themselves having to take up some of the slack within the home, though not usually in equal proportions. These changes have allowed men especially to take on some aspects of parenting that were traditionally left to women. It is far more common for father’s to share the care of their children and to give as much love and affection as mother’s. While statistically women still take responsibility for the majority of the housework and childcare, this imbalance is beginning to be redressed.
I write about this now, having had my husband home on paternity leave for the last two weeks, largely to help with my older daughter as I retrain myself in the ways of the newborn. In many ways this has been a positive thing, and it has given me a chance to reflect on the best things about the modern day father as I see them in my husband and his relationship with his two girls.
1. My husband gets our two year old daughter up every Saturday morning and takes her to swimming lessons, giving me a sleep in or some time alone in the house (well now that ‘alone time’ includes our newborn daughter). The few times I have gone to watch these swimming lessons, I have noted that the vast majority of the parents in the pool are fathers.
2. While he works outside the home most of the week, when he is home he changes more nappies than I do, especially while I’m breastfeeding. I don’t know how many men a generation or two older than me have noted, as my husband takes either of our daughters off to be changed, that he had never changed a nappy in his life.
3. When he takes our daughter to the toy library they return with a tunnel and a set of pretend power tools instead of the more typical girly toys. Though she enjoys playing with both masculine and feminine toys, it means a lot to me that gender stereotypes are not being reinforced by him in the choice of toys she has access to.
4. I can send him out to buy the girls new shoes or clothes knowing that he will make just as good a choice as I would. Point in case, he recently took our two year old to be fitted for new shoes and came back with a pair of sensible unisex runners and a pair of sparkly silver shoes with pink flowers which our two year old loves.
5. After seeing the intense joy on my daughter’s face at the simple act of running on grass, he insisted on laying a small patch of lawn in our somewhat small backyard. I had reservation about his ability to actually get this project completed and to keep up with the care of the lawn, but he has proved me wrong on both fronts. Even better, our two year old’s favourite pasttime is being outside playing on that very same lawn. She has a slide as well as various items of outdoor play equipment on rotation from the toy library, but often is just as happy to ‘run, run, run as fast as you can’ around her small patch of paradise.
6. His enthusiasm at taking our daughter – and soon both daughters – to the football, an activity we both enjoy. Our first daughter attended her first game at just three weeks old and it will be similar with our second. When the oldest daughter was very little he carried in the sling for much of the game and did most of the nappy changes, impressing all of those who sit around us. As she has gotten older and in need of more stimulation, it has become harder to enjoy the game in peace. However, he still insists on her attending, even taking her on his own when I have not felt like going.
7. Since our two year old weaned from night feeds at about 8 months he has shared the responsibility of getting up during the night despite having to go to work the next day. On particularly unsettled nights he has taken her into the spare room and slept with her in there, I find her impossible to sleep with so this works much better for me than her coming into our bed.
8. After getting home from work, usually after 6pm, he invariably takes on the task of getting our two year old bathed and ready for bed and then has the patients to read five story books of her choosing before tucking her in for the night. She usually picks the same books night after night and he knows which are her current favourites. As previously written about, she is an insatiable reader like her Mum, and though he isn’t an avid reader he knows this is important to me and something she enjoys.
9. He regularly rings during the day to let me know when he will be coming home, and to see what sort of day our daughter has been having. As I find the afternoon slog hard going, I find these phone calls a god send to give me an idea on how much longer I need to ‘hang in there’ until help arrives. I know he finds it difficult to walk into the house and straight away have to put on his Dad-hat, but I find a full day of ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy’ so totally draining that my tolerance is usually at it’s lowest point and I need a break.
10. The balance he strikes between rough and tumble play which always leads to a cascade of giggling and full on hysterical laughter, and kisses and cuddles. A perfect combination!
I’m sure there are other things I could have written about, and I’m sure I’ll kick myself for forgetting something I later think is vitally important, but these examples, I’m hoping, illustrate some of the best parts of modern fatherhood, which might not have been open to fathers of previous generations. Having said all this, there is another side of the coin, modern life with its long working hours and pre-occupation with material possessions has also meant that time with family is limited, especially for fathers. As well I’m sure I could list ten things that my husband in his role of a father, really annoys me, like his ability to block out everything around him while watching TV or using the computer – including his two daughters and wife – and his ‘parenting from the couch’ style, but as this blog aims to focus on the ‘good’ aspects of life, I won’t go into these any further.