The new fatherhood, same as the old fatherhood

The new fatherhood, same as the old fatherhood

Time magazine has an article “Fatherhood 2.0 on the “new” notions of what it means to be a father. They note that more fathers are spending more time with their kids and are more active in raising them than previous generations were. Or are they?

Here’s Times’s notion of what “traditional” fatherhood entails:

But what does it mean, exactly, to be a man these days? Once upon a Darwinian time, a man was the one spearing the woolly mammoth. And it wasn’t so long ago that a man was that strong and silent fellow over there at the bar with the dry martini or a cold can of beer—a hardworking guy in a gray flannel suit or blue-collar work shirt. He sired children, yes, but he drew the line at diapering them.

Something tells me the reporter has unresolved daddy issues. This may be what fatherhood and manliness looked like in the 50s and 60s, which goes a long way toward explaining the cultural issues we’ve been dealing with ever since. But it’s certainly not what fatherhood was for everyone or what it was like in a previous age. When most dads were stay-at-home dads, i.e. when they were farmers or workmen who labored in home-based workshops, their children labored by their sides. Boys and girls learned firsthand from fathers and mothers what it means to be a man or a woman.

A prescient diagnosis

It was with the rise of industrialization and the newly automobile-enabled suburban commuters that fathers began to be separated from their children (and wives) and eventually the mothers followed them out of the home.

Does changing a diaper or helping your wife through labor make you less of a man? Are you kidding me?

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger famously diagnosed the world’s ills as boiling down to a single problem: a crisis of fatherhood. Look at every major social problem: Abortion, sexual immorality, homosexuality, gang violence, lack of work ethic, radical feminism, drug abuse. While it’s not the sole cause, the crisis of fatherhood is right there at the root of each one.

Time offers the Stuart Smalley ideal of contemporary fatherhood: “It’s not quite masculine, but … that’s okay.” After all, stripping men of masculinity is one of the major post-modern ideals. But fatherhood, properly understood, is the height of masculinity par excellence. A masculine dad offers love, strength, stability, drive, and—importantly for both sons and daughters—an example of how a man should love a woman by how he loves their mother.

Don’t underestimate that last one’s influence on current pop culture.

(And I haven’t even delved into the spiritual example of a masculine dad. That’s a whole other blog entry.)