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Fathers - Live Like Your Kids Are Watching

Father’s Day – a good day to reflect on our own father and the evolving role of fatherhood.

Father’s Day is a much newer and less-celebrated event than Mother’s Day. The original Father’s Day is attributed to the Catholic Church and the Feast of St. Joseph but the modern celebration began in the early 20th century. A couple of attempts were made to designate a yearly date to celebrate, but it was Sonora Smart Dodd (who recognized the capabilities of men as nurturers, being raised by a single father) who can be thanked for making an annual day to acknowledge a father’s role in raising children (

Research has put into writing the importance of a father-figure in a child’s life (we who were fortunate to have had both a functioning mother figure and a father figure or who were raised well by a single father already knew this). Gabrielle Applebury, a marriage and family therapist, in ‘The Role of a Father in the Family: Today and in the Past’ (, reminds us that “when a child has a healthy relationship with a father figure, they tend to grow up to have higher levels of psychological health, as well as better quality relationships” (they grow up with confidence, self-esteem, and the ability to form more stable relationships with men in general). Note that she said father figure, as ‘fathers’ do not have to be biological (they can be step-parents or non-related mentors), nor do they have to be in a traditional husband/wife relationship (they can be same-sex, transgender, or single parent). The importance, she notes, is the “quality” of the relationship between the father-figure and the child. And, she further notes, a ‘father’ can be in the home, a stay-at-home parent, a supportive partner, or a healthy co-parent after a break-up.

Every role in society changes over time with advanced knowledge and shifting values, and fatherhood could not escape some fundamental transformations in expectations. There is much literature now available about the role of a ‘father’. Of course, some of it is biased towards more traditional views where the man is the head of the household which naturally creates some power differences, while some challenge those beliefs. What fits best for me is the viewpoint that a mother and father complement each other’s styles and make up for each other’s weaknesses in a loving and calm environment.

I really like Gabrielle Applebury’s views of the responsibilities of a ‘father’, whatever form ‘father’ takes and whether residing in the home or not: modelling healthy behaviour, being kind/nurturing/genuine, expressing affection in a healthy way, taking care of themselves in all ways, being understanding and forgiving, not imposing negative views on a child, giving a child space, being compassionate, modelling healthy communication and conflict resolution, and setting appropriate boundaries with no violence, no yelling, and not withholding love.

In my family, our father was highly uneducated, but he had many of these qualities, despite being from a much earlier and more traditional generation. He certainly complemented our mother’s approach to parenting and her skills and weaknesses. (Maybe we were an early example where traditional roles did not fit so well.) Yes, dad was the financial provider, but mom managed everything. Mom carried out the discipline, but dad was the ‘safe place’. He was warm and loving and funny. They discussed finances and decisions. They supported each other’s dreams, however small. They worked together. Mom worried while dad was laissez-faire. Dad never raised his voice or laid a hand on us or our mother (mom was also not abusive). Mom and dad balanced each other out.

Our own dad was proof that all generations had some fathers who had the qualities of what therapist Gabrielle Applebury believes necessary today to be the healthiest ‘father’. (Isn’t it ironic that despite all the research and literature of today, Sonora Smart Dodd experienced these qualities of fatherhood way back in the early 1900’s?)

But I do believe that some men were confused by the changing nature of what it means to be a ‘man’ and, thus, a father, especially if they were raised in a male-dominated household. They might have been born into the belief that ‘a man is tough, non-emotional, and the head of his household’ only to find that expectations and roles of parenthood changed dramatically within their lifetime to a more complementary, affectionate, and emotive style. They might have been raised, themselves, in an unhealthy environment. They have had to learn to make some adjustments in their attitudes and behaviour.

With all the research and education of today, and as each generation changes, all boys should be growing up with these qualities of acceptance, affection, understanding, forgiveness, healthy modelling, effective conflict resolution, self-care, etc. And when boys grow up to be men with these qualities, life is much calmer for everyone, themselves included.

This is not a negative commentary of men or fatherhood. It is simply a reflection of how society’s shifting values change significant roles, fatherhood being one of them. Of course, fathers, just like mothers, won’t be perfect!

So, Happy Father’s Day. Another day with lots of emotion and lots to think about.


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