Aaron Anderson sees a lot of confusing stereotypes when he looks at the modern father. And he would like to see those changed.
Ever since the feminist movement began in the 1960’s men’s roles have been changing. Nowhere is this more evident than in the role of modern fathers. Before the 1960’s fathers were portrayed like Ward Cleaver, a hard working man who would come home from the office, set his brief case down, sit in his comfy chair and read the paper while his wife cooked and kids played outside. As a father, the family looked to him for pearls of wisdom to solve their problems. And whenever he said something, it was ironclad, not to be questioned.
That was fifty years ago. Women’s roles have changed substantially and with it, father’s roles have changed as well. Nowadays, fathers are portrayed much differently. Instead of the intelligent Ward Cleaver, the stereotypical father regularly portrayed by the media is more like Homer Simpson, dumb, incompetent and needing more Duff beer. Despite that they’re expected to be dumb and incompetent, they’re also expected to do more than ever before. In addition to the gender typical responsibilities of fixing cars and doing general household repairs that they’ve always been expected to do, they’re also expected to be responsible for non-gender typical responsibilities like cleaning, cooking, taking care of the children, etc. So they’re expected to be able to do more but be dumb and drink beer doing it.
Confusion Over the Role of the Father
This kind of culture where fathers are expected to be dumb, incompetent and yet still able to do more than ever leaves many men confused about what the role as a father is. They’re still supposed to be strong and dependable for their family but they’re also viewed as dumb and incompetent, too. They’re not supposed to be the Ward Cleaver-like leaders of the family because they’re supposed to share leadership with their wife. But being viewed as dumb and incompetent, it’s hard to garner the appreciation and admiration necessary even to be a co-leader.
As a family counselor seeing how fathers are portrayed by the media and seeing the mixed messages men receive about what it means to be a father, it makes sense to me why nearly 1/3 of all homes in the U.S. are fatherless and over half of the children born in 2011 were born to unwed mothers. It would seem that fathers are opting out of trying to navigate this mishmash and choosing to go solo instead. If fathers are treated as dumb, incompetent and disposable then why would any man want the image and responsibility of being a father? Men would much rather be like the men portrayed in the chick flicks that women go ga for: Men who are single, strong, independent and successful. It’s much easier and more rewarding to navigate this socially acceptable lifestyle than it is to navigate all the inconsistent expectations of modern fatherhood.
What Does a Modern Father Look Like?
The male persona as portrayed in chick flicks seems to be the only consistent, socially acceptable role for modern men. Based on this persona, men are expected to be mysterious, strong, handsome, and successful. Men who fit this persona are rewarded with plentiful women and endless potential sex. But the problem is in that in real life this man is objectified. Women only want him because of his image. And once he becomes a father, this image fades to one where he’s then dumb and incompetent. It’s no wonder men would rather fit the image of the male lead in a chick flick rather than the image of a modern father.
As a father myself, I hope that the days lay ahead where fathers are more respected than what they are now. I get excited to think about a day when being a father is a valued position in society that men once again strive towards. I also look forward to the time when women place higher value the men who are good fathers and not just the ones who meet the typical chick flick persona. I look forward to a day where fathers are looked up to again as the strong, competent and capable people that we are.