The Changing Shape of Family, Masculinity and Care Work

“Do Dads Really Matter?”

Some people might be offended by that question. One of the most important conversations currently related to men and masculinity is related to fathering and the impact of fathers.

Dads by the Numbers

Astoundingly, roughly 80% of men will become biological fathers in their lifetimes (Levtov, van der Gaag, Greene, Kaufman and Barker, 2015, p. 15) and the experiences of these dads are as innumerable and diverse as the men themselves. While much has been said and done on the representations of fathers, there is relatively little about the experience of fathers. A lot of the discourse around fathering betrays a common belief that men in caregiving roles are “really only ‘mothering’,” (Kraemer, 1991, p. 28) and that to be a man at all is really only to participate in the subordination of women (Schrock and Schwalbe, 2009, p. 281). 

Overcoming these discursive and popular beliefs and the ways we embody and perform them is daunting and in some ways, doomed for struggle. In 2006, there were just over eight million fathers in Canada. Under half of these fathers were “biological, adoptive, or step-parent fathers living with children under 18 years of age” (Ball & Daly, 2012, p.3). Of the 1.4 million single-parent families with at least one child under 16, 20% involved single fathers, a number that is on the rise; the rate of growth for lone-male families was over twice the rate of growth of lone-female families (p. 3). This rate of change is representative of the changing fabric of Canada’s (and all of North America’s) social and family landscape. 

Engaged Fatherhood: The Data

What we know about dads is that their engaged presence in the lives of children makes a massive difference. 

  • It’s not the gender of the parents that matters – it’s the quality of the parenting, the relationship between each parent and their children, and the quality of the co-parenting relationship (Silverstein & Auerbach, 1999; Biblarz & Stacey, 2010, Nielsen, 2011).
  • Children are better advantaged if they are raised by more than one healthy adult – (Hrdy on allo parenting). There are some that feel that three healthy adults is actually the ideal number, rather than the traditional singular attachment figure.
  • Outcomes for children raised by single moms are remarkably similar to those raised by single dads. In fact, children who lived with fathers who were actively involved in their child’s schooling achieved at higher rates than those living with a single mom. (Lee, Kushner & Cho, 2007).
  • Pruett & Litzenberger, 1992, found that children in married families where the father is the primary caretaker were more intellectually curious, more socially outgoing, and less prone to pathological separation anxiety than those in comparable groups.
  • Fathers have a significant impact on their children’s social, cognitive, physical and psychological well-being.
  • Fathers have as much impact as mothers do on their childrens’ academic and vocational success, mental health, sexual behavior, antisocial or delinquent behavour, self-confidence, social maturity, and relationships with the other sex. (Brotherson & White, 2006; Flouri, 2005; Lamb, 2010; Tarnis & Cabrera, 2011).

Yes! Dads Do Matter

Becoming a father was one of the most spectacular, life-changing events I could have ever imagined. I am sure there are many dads out there who share this awe and reverence attached to becoming a dad. I take my fathering journey very seriously and am committed to being the best dad I can possibly be. Although I have felt in my heart and soul that dads do matter, it is comforting and exciting to see that the research and literature back me up on this. I would even argue that pushing the conversation further and saying that healthy and engaged caregivers matter in the lives of children is also very relevant. I also believe that we need to be supporting each other to be able to participate actively in the lives of our children. 

So many people in my world (mothers and fathers) are faced with the reality of single parenting following a divorce. As a community, it makes sense to be supporting our friends, colleagues, family members and others to be able to work through these challenging situations so that they can continue to show up for their children in meaningful and consistent ways despite the difficulties. Child-rearing is not the sole domain for mothers and the landscape of parenting is changing rapidly in Canada. Divorce is on the rise and children are more commonly facing a reality of fifty-fifty parenting. Societal attitudes may not have caught up yet, but the data is showing that fathers are involved and they do matter. Let’s continue to engage and have the conversation on how to support our children in the ways that will benefit them the most.

Author

  • Jeff is a seasoned leadership and transformation consultant, thought partner, researcher and advocate for men’s mental and relational health. As CEO of the Bluerock Project, Jeff works with social purpose leaders to develop creative leadership, complexity fitness and relationally resilient cultures. Jeff is co-founder and director of the Men & Project and works with people interested in finding more helpful and relational ways to shift some of our grand narratives on gender, mental health, and violence.

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