Relationships: The Key to a Father’s Role

There was a time when a father’s role was clearly defined. Dads were the breadwinners, the disciplinarians, the ones who left every morning for work and came home just in time for supper, whose primary job around the home was to fix what was broken and stop the horseplay before something got broken.

With America’s labor force now slightly over 50% female and with many working mothers making more than a lot of working fathers, the old notion of Dad as the provider is no longer as tried and true as it used to be. Because of that, fathers today have started to step outside the traditional comfort zones, taking on a more direct role in the family, a role that has long been a veritable No-Man’s-Land for fathers.

With Mom more and more often away at work, the task of nurturing our children, of gently guiding them through the painful process of growing up, is starting to fall upon our shoulders. This is not to say that our roles have reversed, necessarily. The roles have, in reality, become more intermingled, with both Mom and Dad taking on responsibilities that have traditionally been gender specific.

Since mothers are sharing the load in the work force, we fathers are sharing the load at home, taking our turns with the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, and, yes, the child-rearing. Or, at least, we should be.

Of course, I can hear the objections. Blurring the lines between mothers’ and fathers’ roles will only lead to trouble, some will argue. It will leave fathers, in particular, with no identity to hold on to, and it will further confuse the children, especially the sons, who will lose all sense of masculinity.

But the truth is that we fathers have always had the responsibility of nurturing our children. We just go about it differently than mothers do.

Take our propensity for tinkering as an example. Fathers are fixers. When something doesn’t work—or doesn’t work right—it’ll drive us nuts until we fix it. Whether it’s replacing the belt on the dryer or patching the hole in our child’s bicycle tire, we’re right there. And such times are excellent opportunities to nurture.

Allowing our children to tag along and pitch in on our little projects gives us a chance to learn all sorts of things about them—what interests them, what doesn’t, what they have a talent for, what their limitations are. While we’re teaching basic repair skills, we’re growing our relationship with them, creating an intimacy, a connection which will enable them to come to us later with just about anything, from the hardest problems to the simplest joys.

Knowing that we know them, that we are listening and are interested in what they think, feel, and say, is probably the best nurturing tool we have as fathers. Sure, we may lack some of the gentler touches of mothers. When our children have skinned knees or broken hearts, they’ll probably still run to Mom. But the way we nurture is just as important.

Historically, fathers have been the go-betweens for their children and the world outside the front door. How we interact with others determines how our children will. And how we interact with our children will determine how they feel about themselves. I believe fathers do more to instill a child’s self image than any other authority figure in his or her life.

And instilling a good self-image in our children isn’t as hard as it sounds. It’s all about relationships. From throwing a football in the backyard to sitting in on a stuffed animal’s tea party, the role of fathers today is simple: to take the time to be involved in our children’s lives and to involve them in ours. If that isn’t nurturing, I don’t know what is.