Fathers Make
a World of

Chapter 2. Fathering Throughout Time

"We make a living by what we get,
but we make a life by what we give.”
- Winston Churchill

Protect and Provide For
The fundamental nature of a father’s role had changed little over time, until recently. Fathers have traditionally had the role of protecting and providing for their families. Protecting used to include guarding against danger: wild animals or intruders. The form and setting of providing has varied greatly from forest, to field, to factory, to office. Fathers worked and they brought back the results of their work; food, goods and money. These archetypal roles were in the context of a clan, tribe or village. Fathers, primarily, had been giving various forms of physical support. Perhaps today’s fathers can offer a different type of protection; and providing for has new forms as well.

A modern interpretation of ‘to protect and provide for’ could include the environment of the pregnancy and birth. Reading, attending classes and participating with your partner will provide her with valuable support. She will likely need and appreciate it in the early months. Connecting with your child, while he is in the womb, and actively bonding also sends signals to your partner that you are devoted to your new family. This is very important for a mother-to-be. Also included in your role could be making sure the birth environment itself is comfortable, calm and safe. With the trend towards ‘medicalized’ and industrialized birthing practices you may also want to protect your family in more unexpected ways.

Women’s Movement

The women’s movement peaked during the second half of the 20th century and much change ensued. Women wanted recognition for their contribution to the family and society, more freedom, and different role and life options. The rigidity of our archetypal patriarchy was limiting the freedom of both women and men. The women’s movement can perhaps be credited with evolving our culture by stimulating changes to the historic straight jacket of gender roles.

Now, men have been liberated as well. Not all men have embraced these cultural shifts. If we have not had family role models or support for such changes these transitions could be confusing and disconcerting. Men and women now have greater equality in relationships, careers and community life. As a result, the character of the family has changed forever.

Nuclear Family

The cultural evolution to the nuclear family has left a hole where a family’s support systems used to be. There is a proverb which says, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Our villages, towns and cities no longer provide the spirit, much less the meaning, behind this saying. Families do not have the wide-ranging support that was previously customary in tribes and villages. Mothers have historically had their mother, grandmother, in-laws or midwife for role models and support for having a baby and raising a family. This gap has been partially filled by an extensive network of resources to support and educate mothers-to-be. This is invaluable for mothers; however fathers have yet to be afforded the same opportunity.

These shifting cultural trends of the last fifty years, however, have brought men more fully into the family and included them at a more personal level than ever before. This is invaluable as a starting place for understanding fatherhood today.

Changing Family Roles

Today’s society has changed significantly. One change is the blurred line that differentiates gender roles. In the majority of families today both parents have jobs. This alone can cause a shift in parents’ roles. Most couples have their own unique design for how they cooperate economically, socially and within the family. These contemporary shifts have modified the structure of the family and virtually assures role changes, and sometimes role reversals. “In one third of the families today where pre-school children are at home and a parent is the caregiver, it is the father.”2

My own family history was representative of the time. The fathers worked in the fields or businesses and the mothers were housewives, exclusively. The women took responsibility for virtually all aspects of home and family life, especially raising the children. Mothers not only raised the children, they and the children were to a large degree the family unit. The fathers did their time at work and in society, and they came and went from the family.

Though fathers were a part of the family, they did not participate in raising the children in every day life. The mothers interrelated with every aspect of the children’s lives from health care and education, to meals, clothing and their social lives. The fathers then learned about the children from the mothers. Although fathers were considered to be ‘raising the family’, they were on the outside looking in, to a large degree.

The one exception to the mothers’ governance in the family was regarding discipline. Many children of this era were told, “Just wait until your father gets home” or something similar. We all knew what that meant. This was like a stay of execution and, as you can imagine, the rest of the day would not go so well. The father would come home, perhaps tired and frustrated from a days work, and the mother would recall to him the particulars of who needed discipline for what wrong doing. The father would then portion it out. This was one method of keeping children in line. It also placed an unreasonable burden on the father and child relationship.

If a father is working and earning money, there can still be a strong, traditional providing component to his contribution. Women, however, have also stepped up to help fill this previously male function. A father’s family role today has also expanded to include more activities that were formerly of the mother’s domain. This includes everything from direct caretaking and nurturing to diaper changing.

When you provide material and nurturing support your presence and commitment will have profound and lasting value. This whole hearted, lifetime commitment will brighten your darkest days and glorify the brilliant ones.

Fathering in a Modern Age

Perhaps the most significant feature of modern fathering is dad’s participation during the pregnancy of his partner, birth of their children and early parenting. Mothers today usually want fathers to be more involved and in most instances they are.

Men’s archetypal model, as well as their own upbringing, has primarily conditioned them to do the basic physical activities. Fathers are rapidly, and often haphazardly, trying to figure out how to successfully engage in new ways. They are eager for a different type of involvement and can do more for their families, especially when they are properly supported.

On our first prenatal visit with our midwife, Mau introduced me to the concept that I was also ‘pregnant’. This was a ‘brain stopper’ for me and it clicked. From that moment on I adopted the stance that I was also having this baby. I believe it allowed me to more easily engage with Kathryn’s pregnancy and our child and to begin fathering. It benefited my whole family. Kathryn was carrying our baby and I was carrying our family. I understood that by caring for her I was also caring for our child. I was no longer a bystander, baggage handler or just the sperm donor. I was embracing my new fathering role at an early stage.

Men are most receptive to learning at this time of becoming a father. This opening has an opportunity implicit in it. “Research consensus recognizes that the more extensive a father’s emotional investment, attachment, involvement and provision of resources, the more his child benefits in cognitive competence, school performance, empathy, self-esteem, self-control, well-being, life skills and social competence. So there is much to be gained by a father’s capable, committed and loving involvement.”3

I have found that many men today have not attended any classes beyond their formal education or training for a career. They are however eager to learn about becoming a father, in a way that works for them. Fathers today are willing to cross the bridge from a life of only providing physical support to one of being more emotionally involved in their family.

Currently, fathers are rarely provided with their own preparation opportunity. There are some couples classes or a dad’s segment within a mother’s class being offered. However, these forums are designed by women and taught by women. They provide information primarily to educate and support mothers. Most men tell me that, although informative, they did not feel welcome and it was not particularly satisfying for them. This is simply how birth education has developed. There is rarely a space for just fathers to come together to receive information and support designed specifically for fathers and taught by fathers. Fathers-To-Be is changing that.

As I work with fathers in our Fathers-To-Be groups I find that they enjoy exploring and learning about this new phase of their lives. These events are distinctly different from typical men’s groups. Fathers come together to learn about a specialized aspect of manhood; becoming a father. They share a desire to learn about new possibilities for themselves and their families. Men often have concerns, questions and gaps in their understanding of how to be as a father in today’s family and society.

For men, being in a room with other fathers enhances their willingness and ability to trust and be honest about what they are thinking and feeling. Men have an emotional literacy, contrary to the stereotype. Fathers are relieved to hear from other fathers. Sharing stories, acknowledging they are having a deep personal experience and just being heard can sometimes make all the difference. It is about freeing the father, in the man.

Through our Fathers-To-Be website we are supporting dads coming together in living rooms around the world. The importance and significance of fathers’ groups can not be overstated. To be able to hear from and speak with others in a similar situation is profound. These ‘Father2Father’ groups will be mostly informal and hosted by volunteer fathers who appreciate the value of peer support. Fathers supporting fathers, mentoring each other, has the possibility to transform our culture.

©2010, Patrick Houser

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Patrick Houser is a father and a grandfather. His second son's arrival was the first waterbirth in the U.S. This led him into nearly 25 years of support for both choices and working with parents. He has gained wide experience from various fields including a degree in marketing, owning a construction firm and a natural health centre. Patrick is a Life Coach and co-founder of Fathers-To-Be, a new concept in antenatal education, for men. Fathers-To-Be also offers consulting and training for health service providers. E-Mail or www.fatherstobe.org These articles are excerps from his book Fathers-To-Be Handbook: A road map for the transition to fatherhood.

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