Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009
The role of fathers in American society
New Thinga-reader Rob suggests a discussion topic that concerns him:
“I’m British and my wife is American. We live in Washington, DC and are expecting our first child in January. I have a view that American society is strongly geared towards Mum-focused parenting only, whereas my feeling is that the United Kingdom, and some other European countries (Sweden, etc.), are slightly less polarized between the sexes. My perception (I admit) is someway due to the social care system in the states compared to Europe (no mandatory paternity leave), but I do wonder what the general view is.”
Here is my e-mail reply where I go totally over the deep end:
Regarding the role of dads in America, there isn’t a consensus. There are varying levels of participation that mothers are comfortable with, how non-parents view us, and how employers view us… and it’s all mixed up based on the viewer’s age, ethnicity, culture, etc.
What matters to me is how popular culture, namely the mass media, portrays fathers. Either we have the new father who is played for laughs as he performs baby care, or the extremely sensitive man who women are supposed to fawn over because it’s so special that he’s a good father.
There is something of a super-dad persona of the father who is well-employed, a good provider, is involved in his kids’ activities in the evenings and weekends and takes off work to be there for his kids, provides good parenting support, is a superior lover to his wife, and is a carpenter on the side.
There’s also the issue of how society views children, which I’d argue is not very well. It begins with atrocious paternity leave (and maternity leave, including prior to birth) and disregard for universal health care that allows kids’ teeth to rot out (among many other tragedies).
Children are best seen and not heard in public, or better yet, not seen. And by the pre-teen years society wants to treat them like adults, at least in how they dress and the media they consume. Schools and libraries are regrettably funded by the government, but now it’s okay to close libraries. Companies view children for their monetary value, and the general public views children for their economic drain on society.
Sorry to go overboard, but when looking at America in the big picture, I don’t think families are valued much except by other families that contain non-adult children. A father’s perceived role in his family is equally broken — either you’re a bumbling babysitter or a super dad who performs both a motherly role and the classic bread earner role at the same time.
What say you Thinga-readers? What is the role of fathers, mothers and children in America? Not what you think the roles should be — what’s the popular perception? Is that perception correct?