When I was 13, I wanted to be a gymnast and convinced my parents to send me to a sleep-away camp in Pennsylvania, hours away from our New York home. My parents agreed, even though I was too tall and too uncoordinated to ever truly be competitive in the sport.
Unfortunately, when I got to the camp, I hated it and called my parents to complain. My mother told me to give it a chance and not waste the money they had spent. But my dad—a man who wanted his three daughters to be happy always—told me he’d be at the camp to pick me up in the morning and put everything aside to set out early, arriving before I had even finished breakfast.
Clearly, my mom was making sense, and she also wanted us to be happy, but what stayed with me all these years was how my father just dropped everything for me. I thought about this childhood memory this week after reading yet another story about how fathers and fatherhood has changed.
Getty Images, one of the largest photo resources in the world, announced it was finally updating its library to include photos of dads with kids. An article about the change in Adweek was titled Masculinity Gets Modern Makeover In Getty Images News Stock Art Collection: Fatherhood Goes Beyond Football.
While I’m glad Getty is adding such photos, we all should take issue with the notion that fatherhood isn’t really that different today than it was 20, 30, even 50 years ago. Many dads—including my own—were more interested in their family than football, and we do fathers everywhere a disservice when we make it sound like loving fathers have just emerged with the hipsters and Instagram.
Yes, men are looking to be more involved in the day-to-day logistics of the home.
Indeed, here at Families and Work Institute, our research has changed the narrative about fathers, most significantly with our The New Male Mystique report that found working fathers had more work-life fit conflict than working mothers.
“Fathers don’t love their children any more now than they did in the past. What has changed is the range of appropriate and expected ways of showing that love,” says Kenneth Matos, the Institute’s Senior Director of Research, about the role of many fathers today.
While fatherly love and duty used to be defined solely in terms of providing as extensive a financial foundation for his family as possible, Matos explains, now, especially with dual income couples, that motivation for working day and night isn’t as strong. “As women’s roles have expanded, so, too, have men’s roles grown to include other expressions of love for their families. In some circles, a father can legitimately choose time with his family over a shot at a high paying promotion and still be a good father.”
While there is a work-life shift among genders, fathers as loving supporters, interested in the happiness and success of their children are not a new phenomenon.
It’s been that way forever, I suspect. And losing a father today or 50 years ago or a decade ago as I did, devastates a family and the children that love him; not just because he is no longer providing for his family, but also because he is no longer caring for his family.
As the definition of fatherhood and the responsibilities that go with it evolve, let’s remember that loving fathers existed before it was cool and will exist long after the definition changes again.