Every 3rd Sunday in June, families pay tribute to fathers by giving them the royal treatment. For most of just, the past June 19 was spent taking him out to lunch or dinner, cooking his favorite meal, or simply sending him a text message filled with emojis.
But after dear old dad has burst his seams from a sumptuous meal, and our kids have slobbered him with well wishes for a “Happy Father’s Day!” have we really thought about what makes Father’s Day so special?
The story of fatherhood has become more complex and complicated over the years, as the demands of modern life contributed to the challenges, responsibilities and expectations of a dad.
Until the 1970s a father’s essential purpose was to ensure a stable family system, limited primarily to bringing home the “bacon” which assured that his family would be properly fed, clothed and sheltered. It would take numerous research studies to learn that fathers have a direct impact on the emotional well-being of their kids and contribute in other ways substantially different from mothers.
However, the idea of a superfluous father was replaced gradually, with a more credible understanding of the critical role that fathers play in the lives of their children. With baby boomers determined to achieve excellence in their personal and professional lives, the “supermom” of the ‘70s and early ‘80s gave rise to the “superdad” of the late ‘80s and 1990s, as dual-career parents pushed themselves to, and sometimes beyond, their limits.
Rejecting the “Mr. Mom” model of parenting, fathers of the early ‘90s recognized not just the opportunity but also the need to parent differently than mothers. This “Super-ness” was simply an extreme version of the all-out effort many parents made in raising their children.
Moreover, a man’s new-found role as a father was not just socially- and culturally- but biologically-based as well. Just as women are “hard-wired” to be mothers, recent research is showing that men are cognitively “programmed” to be fathers. Neuroscientists are uncovering the secrets to the “daddy brain,” that is, the physiological changes that take place as men become and act as fathers.
A different kind of biochemistry and neural activity kicks into place after a man becomes a dad, nature’s way of advancing a powerful emotional bond between parent and child. From this scientific perspective, the new kind of fatherhood that emerged in the last quarter of the 20th century can be seen as consistent with the biological makeup of men.
There is no doubt, too, that fathers play such an important role in the well-being of their children. They are critical to the proper socialization of children because they teach by example how to keep negative impulses in check.
For example, it is through a young boy’s observation of the way their fathers deal with frustration, anger, and sadness that they learn how men should cope with such emotions. It is also through the observation of how fathers treat mothers that boys learn how men should treat women. If fathers treat mothers with dignity and respect, then it is more likely that their sons will grow up to treat women with dignity and respect. If fathers treat mothers with contempt and cruelty, then it is likely that their sons will, too.
Fathers are also critical for the healthy emotional development of girls. If girls experience the love, attention and protection from their fathers, they are likely to resist the temptations of seeking such things elsewhere—often through casual sexual relations at a very young age.
Finally, fathers are important in helping children make the difficult transition to the adult world. Boys require an affirmation that they are “man enough.” Girls require an affirmation that they are “worthy enough.”
In a society where schooling is generally considered a mother’s responsibility, and where seeing fathers bringing their kids to school is a rarity, I am always heartened by the sight of a child walking in with his or her dad. For the response of a child when it’s dad who brings him or her to school is quite different from when it’s mom: their eyes just light up, their chests are puffed, and they are brimming with pride, as though they were walking with a super hero! And rightly so, for when a father consistently models love, compassion, faithfulness, and joy in the discharge of his “daddy” duties, he truly becomes a hero.
To all the Fathers and Fathers to be, I wish you a Happy (though belated) Father’s Day!
(Excerpts were taken from the following sources: “American Fatherhood: A Cultural History”, by Lawrence R. Samuel, 2016; “Why There Is No Substitute for Parents” by Wade F. Horn, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, and adjunct faculty member at Georgetown University Public Policy Institute, 1997)
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In his article entitled, “66 Things Your Father Never Taught You,” Marshall Karp writes:
“Things a Father used to teach his son:
How to keep their eye on the ball.
How to make a game out of marbles and
a shoe box.
Men don’t kiss other men.
Things a father teaches his son now:
How to keep pasta from sticking together
How to share your feelings.
It’s Okay for men to cry.
Things a father used to teach his daughter:
A woman’s place is the home.
Be sweet, be demure, be a lady.
If you want to go ahead in business,
learn to type.
Behind every man. There’s a woman.
Things a father teaches his daughter now:
Get your MBA. It’ll earn an extra 50k a year.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.
You gotta play hardball.
If you want to get ahead in business, play golf.
If there is a single thought to be taken away
from a relatively long view of fatherhood,
it is that fathers truly matter.
Men have rightfully viewed fatherhood as
one of if not the only opportunity to
become “complete” people, and as a path
toward self-realization and perhaps
Cultural standards were in a sense suppress
ing the fuller expression of fatherhood, with
men able to follow their nurturing instincts
now that it is more socially permissible.
Excerpts from: “America Fatherhood: A Cultural History” by Lawrence R. Samuel, 2016