Fatherhood crisis may have passed

Parenting columnist Ian Munro takes a look at being a father in a fast-paced world.

I've had occasion of late to observe several newly minted fathers making the lifestyle adjustments needed after the arrival of their first child and one of them is struggling to find his dad role.

A decade ago I wrote about a British survey reported in The Guardian (June 20, 2004) that seemed to indicate that modern life was undermining fatherhood. It was declared to be in crisis.

While fathers of an earlier generation were perhaps overly authoritarian and much more physically and emotionally absent by today's standards, they still played a pivotal role in the family.

Now the old role models were no longer working, as fathers hadn't been central to family life for probably the previous 20 years.

The result was an emotional withdrawal and a tendency for fathers of young families to bury themselves in their work.

Today more and more are becoming fathers later in life and, with their partner, have enjoyed a way of life that has become a well-established routine.

One of the problems facing what has been described as the fast-food, fast-careers, fast-debt and fast-romance generation is that children aren't fast to go to sleep, fast to learn how to behave, fast to grow up and look after themselves.

They demand time and patience and don't leave you with much surplus cash in your pocket.

Fathers are also trying to juggle these new demands and pressures at home with those in the modern workplace and a changing relationship with partners who are quite self-sufficient in so many ways, have their own work pressures and have expectations that the mothering role will be shared.

For some, it can be hard to find their role somewhere in there.

English sociologist Prof Laurie Taylor, co-author with his son Matthew of What Are Children For?, says that in the past sons emulated their fathers.

"Now, however, fathers have nothing for their children to inherit. The world is changing too quickly and, instead of sitting at their fathers' feet listening to stories about the world, children are closed up in their own rooms on the internet, finding out about it first.

"It is difficult to know how to reassert the role of fatherhood. There is nothing obvious for him to do or be.''

Son Matthew wasn't so pessimistic, admitting that while it was a difficult time for fathers, once the change had taken place today's fathers would get a better deal than any previous generation's.

As men stay in a younger lifestyle for longer there are greater opportunities to bond with their children.

They "have their teenage crisis earlier, which means they relate to their fathers as adults earlier''.

Observing today's fathers 12 years on, I tend to agree with him. Perhaps the crisis has almost passed.


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