The Everyday Dad
Observations on the Routines and Attitudes of Young Fathers
Roles and Duties
According to dads, their role just begins with providing for the basic needs of their children. Of course they are responsible for making sure their children have food, shelter, and warm clothing, but this traditional male role of provision is only a fraction of what they see as their duty as a father. Another historically male role that dads see as their duty is to be a disciplinarian, though seldom the sole disciplinarian. Beyond these conventionally male responsibilities, dads commonly refer to "being there" for their kids. Sometimes they specify being there emotionally or spiritually, but other times they leave it as simply being there for them. Another generally abstract role that dads see as their responsibility to fulfill is teaching their children life skills necessary to be successful. Generally they are vague about the exact skills involved, but they are clear that merely teaching lessons is insufficient. Almost all dads mention that only living a positive example of these life skills will provide an environment conducive to their children applying them in their own lives. The one exception to the vague way life skills are discussed involves the dads' relationships with their daughters. Dads have a 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.
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, they invest more heavily into their role as a dad. As Ryan says, "I probably don't put near the energy into being a husband, unfortunately, that I do into being a father." 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. Although they feel like successful fathers overall, dads evaluate themselves the lowest in teaching kids specific lessons and providing a consistent role model for their children to emulate. Part of the reason dads feel like they are struggling to convey particular lessons to their kids might be due to timing. Many dads have precise life skills that they are focusing on with each child at the time of the study. Since they are evaluating their success in the middle of working with their kids on certain issues, they may feel like they have not yet succeeded in their goal, even though there are likely preceding lessons that have had greater success. Similarly, dads are acutely aware of the ways they fall short in setting an example they would like for their children to emulate.
Favorite and Least Favorite Parts
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. The sacrifices required of them are the only other aspect of fatherhood that dads mention not liking. Sometimes these unwelcome sacrifices are more tangible, such as losing so much sleep. Other dads share sacrifices that are more of what being dad demands of them as a person, including patience and consistency when they are already feeling stressed.
Many of the challenges dads face are related to rising to what they expect of themselves as dads. They struggle to find the time to meet all the demands of work and spending enough time with each of their children individually, as well as making time for their wife and time for their family as a whole. Dads with younger kids face more basic challenges, such as getting enough sleep. Dads with older kids often focus on the specific lessons they are trying to teach each kid and find it very challenging to try to accomplish their objectives in their children’s lives. They are also concerned about all the obstacles their children will face in order to become successful adults, and whether they have what it takes as a dad to equip their children to meet the challenge. Many dads see addiction to videogames, the direction of the federal government, a lack of God in society, the state of public schools, and the accessibility of drugs as tremendous challenges to the success of their children. In addition to the cultural influences dads feel like they are battling, several dads mentioned that a major challenge for them is worrying about horrible circumstances befalling their child, such as debilitating sickness, being kidnapped, or getting hit by a car. Dads are very concerned that something will prevent them from providing their children with the future they want for them.
Role Models and Advice
Typically dads either say that their own father is a role model for them, or they say that they do not have a role model for being a dad. Those who see their dad as a role model admire qualities such as the way their dad has always been there for them, would do anything for his kids, has always worried about them, and gave lectures that did not make sense at the time, but now they are living by them and passing the lectures on to their own kids. Dads who do not consider their own dad a role model can seldom describe any role model, so they are parenting according to an idea of what they feel a father should be without being able to point to any examples of someone who they thing has done it well.
Overall, dads are almost as reluctant in getting advice about being a father as they are about being a husband, but not quite. Most dads just think parenting is common sense, or they try to learn from watching other fathers. The men who are able to go to someone else for advice about being a husband typically go to the same people for advice about being a dad. A few dads who will not ask anybody else for marital wisdom will talk with their friends about parenting perspectives, but most dads do not want anyone else telling them how to parent their kids.
Originally published August 2011