Friday, June 27, 2008

Fatherhood in the 21st Century

A couple of days ago, the Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times highlighted an article presented by PsychCentral, about Fatherhood in America. The PsychCentral article, by Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D., touches on the confused view American Pop Culture has of Fatherhood (see The Simpsons, Everybody Loves Raymond, Two and a Half Men, or even the late 20th Century classic, Married With Children, etc.), which presents itself in fits and spurts of half-hearted, ill-fated attempts by Fathers to do something right in their homes or families, but generally disappointing all involved.

Hartwell-Walker decides to leave it to "the sociologists to explain the many and complicated variables...that are at the root of...the pejorative TV scripts," and chooses, instead, to focus on what kids actually need from their fathers, and how fathers can give these things to their children, whatever the state of the family. She touches on some big paternal issues like "embracing the responsibility" of fatherhood and the importance of present and consistent fathering. These seemingly elemental points are applicable both to the "father-absent" homes, as well as the homes in which the father resides. Often, a father lives at home, but is physically or emotionally absent much of the time due to work and other of life's stresses. This kind of absence can create a host of problems all its own.

She also suggests striking a balance between discipline and fun, another important piece of advice. Often, I think, dads get caught in the "Wait until your father gets home!" cycle, which does neither dad nor kid any favors.

But perhaps my favorite point Hartwell-Walker makes is for fathers to "be a role model of adult manhood." This is equally important for girls as it is for boys, as Hartwell-Walker points out. She tells dads, "Make no mistake: The kids are observing you every minute. They are taking in how you treat others, how you manage stress and frustrations, how you fulfill your obligations and whether or not you carry yourself with dignity." Indeed, she notes, that boys will grow up like their fathers, and girls will choose men as partners who strongly resemble their fathers, emotionally speaking.

Much is made, perhaps especially in the blogosphere, of Motherhood and the role of Mom, here at Mama's Cup as much as anywhere else. And of course--do I even need to write this?--nothing replaces a mother's nurturing and love. But when you examine Hartwell-Walker's conclusion--that it doesn't matter what a father does for a living or how much money he makes or what his hobbies are, what matters is a father's long-term commitment and involvement--it becomes clear that nothing replaces a father's guidance and love either.

Fatherhood links:

National Fatherhood Initiative
Inside Fatherhood
TIME Article: Fatherhood 2.0
US Department of Health and Human Services

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