A Father, A Husband, A Man
How Marriage and Family Impact a Man's Identity
The prevailing framework with which dads approach their role in the family is as an equal partnership with their wife. Dads view their role as that of a team player with shared responsibility with their wife rather than split responsibility. Instead of taking sole ownership for the financial support of the family, many dads share this role with their wife. In return, they play active roles in caring for the children and completing other domestic duties. In this shared responsibility fathering role, dads, as well as moms, deal with the daily frustrations of getting children ready to leave and the hassles of shuttling them to their activities.
Even very traditional dads tend to have less of a split-responsibility partnership, and more of a shared-responsibility partnership. These dads complete a variety of domestic duties and reject conventional divisions of household labor. Traditional dads see completing domestic duties as one of the best ways to love their wife sacrificially. Other dads see completing domestic duties as just a natural extension of having a household or the only way tasks will be done the way that they like them. Most dads will take at least some responsibility for childcare and cleaning the house while their wife will often contribute to the family financially and do chores such as mowing the lawn.
Jake explains this approach by sharing, "We're a team, my wife and I. There's nothing that I can't do or won't do for the kids and vice versa. She does everything from, you know, dog care to, you know, working outside, working in the yard. We don't have one task that's just mine. We don't have one task that's just hers…So, our family's important and we're together… We're doing it as a team together." This team approach is so prevalent in dads; most children are spending healthy amounts of time and developing meaningful relationships with both their moms and their dads.
Dads have a stronger connection with their children as a positive outcome from this shared-responsibility arrangement. Most dads hold significant responsibility in caring for the daily needs of their children. The overwhelming majority prioritize their activities in order to maximize time with their families. As a result of the large amount of time dads are spending with their children, they experience a high level of emotional warmth in the relationships they have with their children.
When both parents work and the dad's job begins later than the mom's job, dads typically shoulder the entire responsibility for getting children ready in the mornings. Even dads with an early morning commute are usually involved with the children's morning routines. They are also every bit as engaged in bedtime routines as they are in getting the kids ready in the mornings. Many dads use bedtime as an opportunity to intentionally build their relationship with their children.
In addition, most dads anticipate the time they will get with their families on the weekends. Some dads, such as Joseph, integrate time with their children with their chores. "More often than not, it's all together, and it's a lot of fun. So sun up to sun down, we use that time. We might run a lot of shopping errands…sometimes groceries, sometimes other things. Just a lot of running around, but we do it together… We try to throw in a store that we know they like to look at, a toy store… to do yard work, maybe the kids will come outside, and they'll play in the swing or they'll ride their bike and I take breaks and help them with that and we laugh."
Dads will do anything for their kids. Most dads rate themselves highly as fathers because of their heavy level of involvement with their children. Not only are dads succeeding as fathers in holding an integral part of their children’s daily life, but they also tend to rate themselves highly on the emotional affirmation they provide for their kids. Dads have an especially strong sense that the way they interact with their girls and the example they set in marriage will shape their daughters' future interactions with potential romantic partners.
The negative outcome of parents sharing household responsibilities rather than splitting them is that the dual involvement can often lead to conflict between husband and wife concerning the best way for tasks to be accomplished. Dads say that the lack of clear-cut gender roles creates disagreements as it forces families to tediously coordinate every aspect of household responsibilities. Disagreements are unequivocally dads’ least favorite part of being a husband. Dads especially dread fighting over different parenting approaches. They have strong aversions and responses to disagreements with their wife.
Dads tend to feel better prepared to meet the logistical needs that their children have than they do to meet the emotional needs of their wife, especially when their kids are younger. A very prevalent duty husbands discuss is listening to their wife, but this duty is often referred to with a negative tone. Dads recognize this as critical to being a good husband, but many do not particularly relish the task. Dads complain about having to hear the same facts multiple times and having to just listen rather than helping their wife find a solution. Yet even when they don't enjoy the task, dads see it as their duty to listen to their wife daily, and even more when she's processing stressful circumstances.
Most dads feel like they are failing to meet their wife's emotional needs. This is often related to the frustrations they have in actively listening to their wife. Some dads say they lack the patience to be consistently engaged emotionally. Others say that they already know what she's going to say so they get distracted. For many dads, finding time alone with their wife is the biggest barrier to being emotionally supportive. These dads are not insensitive to their wife's needs, but they are struggling to meet them because providing emotional support does not come naturally for them.
Dads, especially those with younger children, have an easier time meeting the logistical needs that their kids present. They may get frustrated with their kids constantly interfering with their sleep, but they are usually able to muster the physical resources to take care of what their children need without feeling as personally drained. Ryan explains how easily he handles even the less pleasant tasks of parenting, especially in the light of the joy he finds in the role. "I’m just tickled to death to be a father and to have these kids…I'm just loving every second of it. And I guess that’s the answer to 'what is my favorite part?' Everything. From dirty diapers to giving them baths, to getting them dressed, to watching them learn, to the questions. My daughter is three now and every second is a question…I love singing my daughter to sleep, putting her to bed and cuddling with her, brushing her hair, talking about her day… I really love every single second… There really is no least favorite part, even the inconvenience of just having to leave work a little early to pick the kids up at daycare if they just got a whooping cough… that really rolls off my back, like water off a duck… There's no pity for myself anywhere and it's all just like I'm so happy that I get the opportunity to be the guy that comforts my daughter when she's sick, cleans up after the kids, teaches her how to ride a bike."
In stark contrast to the devotion with which Ryan approaches even changing diapers and cleaning up after the kids, he says, "I probably don't put near the energy into being a husband, unfortunately, that I do into being a father." This preference for the role of dad above the role of husband is common, but what causes it? Ryan, who adores his children, and is idolized by them, says that some days it seems like his wife is always "complaining and creating issues,” so although he realizes his life is “richer, more rewarding, and more enjoyable" with his family, sometimes he thinks that it would be easier if he had his own apartment and could come home to relax in peace.
With the multitude of decisions couples must make together and the myriad of expectations that many women have for their partner, the relationship between dad and mom is often fraught with conflict. Parents care so deeply about the well-being of their children, but all too often do not agree on the best path to ensure a secure future for them. This almost inevitably causes disagreements to ensue. These negative interactions can often strain a marriage.
Children, on the other hand, have a tendency to be adoring of their dad, which can meet a very deep need for him. Cameron gives an example of this in sharing, "My favorite part about being a father is… when I see my children after a long day at work and they run and hug me and say, ‘Daddy, I miss you, I love you.’ And it’s pretty much an everyday thing. And then one of the things that I notice that…they work hard to please me and make me happy. And that’s something that I love about them…when they play sports…when they’re dancing… they really want me to be happy and proud of them…that’s the best part of being a father… I don’t care how long my day is, I don't care what I'm doing, when I see my children and they tell me they love me and they hold me, it makes me feel good."
Receiving positive feedback from their children while being critiqued by their wife sets the stage for many men to prioritize their relationships with their children above the relationship they have with their wife. Most dads think that they are doing a pretty good job as a father, certainly better than they are doing as a husband. Part of this difference between the roles of husband and father comes from the great enjoyment the men find in being a dad. As a result, many men invest more heavily into their role as a dad.
Although this is common, it is certainly not universal. For some dads, having kids is their favorite part about being a husband. For other dads, though, their favorite part about being a husband is being alone with their wife, so they are excited for the kids to grow up. Either way, there is consensus among all dads that for the present, having kids and being a family is a "beautiful thing."
Accomplishment vs. Enjoyment
Partially as a result of the more complicated relationship men share with their wife, many have a deep sense of accomplishment in successfully maintaining their marriage. In fact, a commonly shared favorite aspect of being a husband is the commitment and maturity that marriage requires of them. They appreciate being required to mature and be committed because this makes them a better person and they are very proud of the relationship they have with just one woman. One dad said that his favorite part of being married is knowing that he’s a part of God's purpose. Others say that the biggest challenge of being a husband is beating the statistics to keep their family together. Very honestly, several dads admit that the way marriage forces them to be less self-centered is simultaneously their favorite and least favorite part.
Jamell crystallizes the sense of accomplishment he feels in being a husband. "I love being married. I love being with one woman… It gives me a sense of self-importance, self-value to be with one person and to be able to commit with one person, when there's so much out there, so many temptations that humans are confronted with… So to be able to turn away from that life, to be with one person for the betterment of two people, I love the fact. That keeps me happy, with knowing that I made the good decision to get married."
In contrast to the accomplishment dads feel in being a husband, they tend to find deep enjoyment and fulfillment from being a dad. When dads are talking about their favorite aspects of being a father, they get the biggest smile on their face. Several say that "everything" is their favorite part of being a dad. Dads delight in being with their kids and watching them grow. They find a special kind of satisfaction in helping their children master new qualities and skills. The time dads share with their children is precious to them.
Most dads do not share a least favorite part of fathering. Among the few who actually shared, their least favorite is the same as their favorite, watching their kids grow up. While some of the greatest enjoyment in being a father comes from helping their kids discover the world and successfully master new skills, this same process can also be heartbreaking as dads realize how quickly their children are growing.
Perhaps William best sums up what so many dads feel when considering their roles of husband and father. "Favorite part about being a husband is my family. I think if I was a husband without kids, that would be pretty challenging. I do love my wife, don't get me wrong, but I definitely appreciate my family, kids, the whole family life."
Originally published August 2011
© 2011 Focus on the Family.