What is the role of a father? What are the expectations? How is fatherhood viewed? Each home has its own rules about expected and acceptable behavior by the men in the family. But society at large seems a little confused about what fatherhood really means and especially how it’s viewed. Here are a few mixed signals you might want to consider:
1. Being there
With the advent of divorce and unwed parenting, absentee fatherhood is at an all-time high. So when faced with a norm of missing dads, when one decides to stick around the decision is met with respect. In some communities it is expected for mothers to raise their children on their own. Those who are lucky enough to receive support are then expected to be excited by the minimal effort, like paying child support. But when did fully engaged fatherhood become parallel to “showing up” or “coming around?” Being part of a child’s life instead of raising him is not enough to the child or his mother. So society may be cutting dads a little too much slack in this department.
2. Staying home
If dads are integral parts of their kids’ lives, they’re not exactly allowed to be too involved either. Attitudes might be slowly changing, but if a father decides to stay home and raise his children while his wife goes to work, there is a hint of dismay and surprise in the mind of many people. Men are expected to be providers. Allowing the woman to be the breadwinner casts a shadow of doubt of the man’s, well, manhood!
3. Making men
Fathers are expected to turn their sons in to men. But how? What if that man didn’t have a father himself, or if his father wasn’t a healthy role model?
The male role models in the media tend to be very rigid archetypes that are often imbalanced, emotionally distant, and perpetuate gender stereotypes. But the hard truth is media has much more face time with kids than fathers do. So sons are more likely to learn how to be “men” from corporate advertising, entertainment and their friends than from their fathers. It seems society has tasked men with a job they can’t always actually do, because society is doing it itself!
4. Unlearning masculinity
Now more than ever, fathers are beginning to understand the dangers of continuing to teach both their sons and daughters to fall into the traditional gender roles that perpetuate inequality. Unlearning what defines masculinity and allows balance is an ideal that creates healthy and compassionate men and future fathers. But who teaches these men to unlearn masculinity first? Society wants fathers to be a certain way and teach their sons to emulate that way. But how do they get that way? Who is teaching these teachers?
5. Unequal applause
A single mother gets a nod. A single father gets applause. A man taking care of his kids alone is seen as much more of hero than a woman doing the same job. Again, the expectation is men leave and women stay. Single parenthood deserves applause no matter what, but society may give single dads a little more praise and accolades than is needed.
6. Unequal appeal
Single mothers can sometimes feel a strain when dating, and have to worry about their kids being seen as “baggage” by potential suitors. Single fathers are more likely to find their situation appealing in the dating scene. Single dads are more likely to be viewed as responsible, compassionate, supportive and attractive. The expectation is they are really good guys who can be trusted and counted on. They stepped up when they didn’t need to, or came to call in a crisis. A woman may be seen as doing what she’s supposed to do. Being a mom doesn’t increase her appeal as much as being a dad increases his.
Fathers constantly walk a tightrope between expectations, ability and choice. What fatherhood means to anyone must be decided by them. But don’t expect Joe Average to stay quiet about it.