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Michael Swartz / Jun. 15, 2018

Dads Attempt to Stay Relevant

In the modern feminist portrayal, a father is almost as useful as one’s appendix.

In modern American culture as portrayed by feminists and the media, a father is almost as useful as one’s appendix. Either he is deemed unnecessary for raising children — witness the number of women who are single mothers by choice — or he’s been handicapped by a lack of good examples into being a less-than-helpful partner in the familial relationship. While we blame the prototypical welfare mom for having six kids by five fathers, though, one can’t hold the fathers blameless for not stepping up when it’s time to raise their children.

Yet there are some mitigating factors at work, too. Over the last half-century it’s become the rule that a mother works outside the home. Since mom has become a vital part of earning household income, the old role of the father as breadwinner and provider has diminished — yet fathers can’t seem to get comfortable in their redefined roles. As evidence of this, a recent study out of Ohio State University describes a phenomenon called “maternal gatekeeping.” When Dad can’t quite get the hang of holding that baby bottle or folds the laundry in a manner Mom doesn’t approve, that criticism becomes a “self-fulfilling prophecy” as the mother shuts the father out of the parenting process.

But Dad doesn’t get a lot of guidance, either. In another study, this time from the journal Pediatrics, two University of Michigan researchers describe their difficulty finding parenting education programs aimed at fathers. “We … celebrate our fathers on Father’s Day,” write study authors Joyce Y. Lee and Shawna J. Lee. “However, we leave them with almost no resources for navigating the transition to fatherhood. This disparity in services is inevitably hurting not only fathers, but also their children.” Over time, conflict about raising the kids can put a strain on a relationship, too often leading to divorce and its consequences for those children — not just emotional and mental health issues, but risks even including a decreased chance of attaining a college degree.

Unfortunately, things may get worse for dear old Dad before they get better. Writer John Hawkins describes the rise of what’s considered “toxic masculinity,” noting, “We take a young man and kick his father out of his life, send him to school where he has mostly women teachers, barrage him with negative messages about masculinity, then turn him loose at college where we treat him like a guilty-until-proven-innocent rapist, and after all that, we blame ‘masculinity’ when he goes off the rails despite the fact that he spent a lifetime bathed in femininity. Unsurprisingly, the more women try to change masculinity, the more negative and toxic it actually becomes.”

More proof that fathers are becoming an appendage comes from north of the border, where a judge ruled that a child born of a polyamorous relationship between two men and one woman must have both men listed as fathers on the child’s birth certificate. Justice Robert Fowler, of the Family Division of the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, held, “To deny this child the dual paternal parentage would not be in his best interests. It must be remembered that this is about the best interests of the child and not the best interest of the parents.” (Perhaps this is a precursor to truly taking a village to raise a child.) Yet a simple DNA test would easily reveal which of the two men involved was the actual biological father.

Thankfully, we have not completely eliminated the need for fathers, and there are many millions among them who have stayed true to themselves, their wives and their children. They’ll be the ones who get the necktie, the handwritten construction paper card from daddy’s little girl, or the phone call from their son three states away. Whatever the case, and however the gifts are packaged, true fathers know that their gift to the world is their child and they seek to raise that child in the best way they know how, even if it’s not quite perfect.

We wish them (and you, if you’re a dad) a Happy Father’s Day.


For more, Mark Alexander, a father of three, has written extensively over the years on fatherhood. View his archive of those articles here.

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