How to be a dad: The evolution of what ‘fatherhood’ really means
As the traditional definition of parenthood continues to be redefined, the very notion of fatherhood – and its relevance in a child’s life – it a hot topic for debate. After all, how much have families changed in just a few short decades?
So when it comes to fatherhood, is it a gendered role restricted to males in heterosexual relationships? Or, much like families, has its definition evolved so much that it’s now simply a role parents choose to take on?
The current state of play
Families are no longer boxed into the 1950s image of ‘perfection’: the mum, the dad, and the 2.5 ankle-biters all living in suburbia. Thankfully. Diversity in families has always been existent, but now it’s acknowledged and understood and – for the most part – accepted.
So what, then, does ‘fatherhood’ even mean? Do you have to be a manly bloke who trudges into the big smoke every day to make a living? What about same-sex families? Should there be one ‘father’ out of two women? And are there two ‘dads’ out of a male couple?
Confusing? Sure, it can be. But the idea that the fatherhood label can only be slapped on hetero males with their own biological children is simply narrow-minded.
How to be a dad
A number of factors are contributing to the evolution of what it means to be a father: the rise of dual-earning families, an increase in stay-at-home dads, and shifts in what it means to be a ‘good’ father – i.e. being active and invested in the child’s upbringing rather than the hardworking yet emotionally stunted father of yesteryear.
But masculinity can be a tough pill to swallow for many blokes, especially in a country like Australia where we are still so bloody concerned about how we’re perceived by members of the same sex. And this traditional sense of masculinity doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere real soon, not at all helped by characterisations of stay-at-home dads in the media.
Because what’s stopping the ‘traditional’ dad from actually being the most engaged, loving and supportive parent? And on the other end of the spectrum, what’s stopping the ‘modern dad’ from being distant and uncaring? To assume that one is better than the other is missing the point.
There’s a difference between being a parent (i.e. doing what’s expected of you to keep your child alive and safe) and being a father (i.e. investing yourself in your child’s wellbeing, going the extra mile and being emotionally engaged with them throughout their lives).
It’s a choice
There’s a lot of debate around what effect – if any – having a male parent has on a child growing up. Some studies reckon it can lead to a range of psychological abnormalities such as being more prone to aggression, depression and even suicide. Others say growing up without a father can actually be a gift.
The bottom line is that fatherhood is not now – nor has it ever been, contrary to what the history books might tell you – strictly based on gender. Rather, it’s a role. It’s an undertaking. It’s a decision you consciously make to give your children (biological or otherwise) the upbringing they deserve.
Fatherhood isn’t a freebie that comes with the parenting package. It’s a choice.