A father’s role within the family unit has evolved significantly over time, and it may not be as simple as we think to define the role of a father in the modern family unit. Some argue that the father plays an important role in child upbringing while others argue that the presence of a father is neither here nor there.
Although the role of mothers has changed little over the years, the role of fathers has changed considerably, particularly over the past 150 years.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, often referred to as the Victorian Era, the father was a very distant and rarely seen figure as far as children were concerned and his responsibility was largely confined to being the family’s ‘law giver’. This changed during the early part of the twentieth century, due in no small part to the influence of Freud, and by the middle of the century fathers were seen much more as being the family’s ‘wise breadwinner’.
As we moved into the 1960s and 1970s however fathers were once more given a back seat role and many people viewed them as nothing more than ‘sperm donors’. Today, it’s difficult to define the role of fathers and it’s very much a case of ‘ask ten people and you’ll get eleven opinions’.
So where do we start in trying to define a father’s role? Well, the answer is that we have to return to basics and ask a few fundamental questions such as “what effect does their presence (or absence) have on the family?” and “why do children need a father?”
In trying to answer these and other similar questions the first difficulty that you encounter is that there is a wide variety of opinions. However, one thing that most studies agree upon is that children do not normally fair as well in the absence of a father and poor performance at schools, drug use, violent behavior and criminal activity are more frequently seen in children who are raised without a father. But trying to determine just why this should be the case is not easy.
It seems likely that there is no single cause and that a combination of financial, psychological and other factors are involved. Whatever the cause, it would nonetheless seem that children need a father if they are to get the best start in life.
Aside from being the breadwinner and providing the basic necessities of food and shelter, fathers are undoubtedly seen as providing protection for their daughters and role model for their sons. However, many argue that the father’s role as one half of the parental partnership is perhaps the most important.
Children are strongly influenced by everything that they see and hear and they see and hear a great deal more than we often realize. Observing the roles of mom and dad working together, children learn a great deal from the way in which matters are discussed and decisions made. The manner in which responsibilities are divided between the parents with mom taking care of such things as bedtime routines, diet and household chores and dad being the guardian of such things as the front door (granting permission for the children to spend time with friends or go the mall) and taking care of the issue of pocket money, provides children with a model of parenting and teaches them a variety of skills.
This, combined with a host of other experiences common in a two parent household, helps to shape a child’s view of the adult world and of the interaction between the sexes.
We could of course continue to develop this further and look in more detail at just how the interaction of two parents influences the children, but things begin to get a little bit complicated when we start to consider such things as the personalities of the two parents and the strength or otherwise of their own relationship. Looking at the possibilities here would means looking at literally hundreds of different scenarios.
Perhaps the simplest answer to our original question of what a father’s role is would be to say that it is many different things to different people and, while we could try to define it, perhaps it’s simple enough to say that the presence of a father in a child’s life is important and that, in general, children are better off with a father than without one.