With Father’s Day fast approaching on Sunday, September 6, SHESAID examines what life is like for modern-day dads and how fatherhood has evolved over the years – arguably, for the better and the greater good of all.
Forty years ago, when I was born, it’s fair to say fathers were mostly absent when it came to child-rearing. Your father was the traditional breadwinner and disciplinarian whom you mostly saw in the evenings and on weekends, if you were lucky.
Back then, dads could hide behind their newspapers or their games of golf, while their poor harried wives primarily raised the kids. And while you adored your mostly hands-off dad – for whom working outside of the family home was the norm – you mainly looked to your stay-at-home-mum for emotional and moral guidance.
Oh how times have changed: thanks to the advent of feminism and women’s growing economic emancipation and independence, today’s modern-day dads have been forced to take on vastly different fatherhood roles than those of previous generations.
Today, fathers are very much hands-on – from pregnancy through to the birth suite and beyond. What’s more, today’s modern-day dads want to be actively involved in raising their kids; it’s hard to fathom this was once not the accepted norm and fathers weren’t even allowed to be present when their wives gave birth! Instead, bewildered dads were ushered out into waiting rooms leaving their wives all alone at such an all-important, life-changing, emotionally-charged moment.
Nowadays, it’s the norm for dads to share in every aspect of co-parenting if you’re fortunate enough to have a loving and supportive partner and the father to your children by your side, just as my husband is. However, the modern-day father comes in many forms: he may be gay or straight; a stay-at-home-dad or office worker; an adoptive dad or step-parent; or a separated or divorced dad, both of whom usually predominantly parent from afar.
Much is written about mother love, but psychological research across families from all ethnic backgrounds suggests fathers’ love and affection is vitally important – indeed, it has been shown to be as crucial, powerful and pervasive as the influence of a mother’s love. Fathers who play a permanent and loving presence in their childrens’ lives boost their social, emotional and cognitive development and functioning. Interestingly, children with loving fathers are less likely to struggle with behavioral or substance abuse problems.
And while father-son relationships are incredibly important – every dad is their son’s first hero – the father-daughter bond is one of the most influential and significant relationships in a girl’s life. In fact, the pivotal role a father plays in shaping his daughter’s self-esteem and social and emotional development cannot be overstated. It’s everything: fathers show their daughters, by example, how they can create a loving, trusting relationship with a man and also teach them how to be self-confident and self-reliant.
Just this weekend gone, I watched, with both awe and pride, my husband happily act out scenes from The Little Mermaid, complete with props, at the request of our feisty, little two-year-old and three-year-old daughters. The girls adore their father and their shared joy was a beautiful thing to behold.
And today, it’s positively trendy to be a hands-on dad, with A-list celebrities the public face of modern-day fatherhood. Look at the pin-up example of hunky, English former professional footballer David Beckham: what woman hasn’t swooned over the endless stream of cute pics in the press of him with his four children, particularly the youngest, his daughter Harper? I don’t know about you, but Beckham and Harper (pictured) are so adorable together, it makes me feel a tad clucky. His wife, former Spice Girl and fashion icon Victoria Beckham is one lucky lady.
And another prime A-list example of a modern-day dad is gorgeous actor/producer Brad Pitt, whom – by all accounts – very much co-parents his six children with his wife, actor/director Angelina Jolie.
So, what’s it like to be a modern-day “rad dad”? An everyday blokey hero, who’s actively involved in child-rearing? And how does it feel to be in such a vastly different fatherhood role to that of your own dad?
Noosa’s Marty Hardinge, CEO and managing director of leading global retail marketing company, 5P, is a busy, hands-on dad to three kids, a 12-year-old son and two daughters aged 11 and 8.
He runs the home-based business along with his wife, 5P founder Jennifer Porter, as well as playing an active role in child-rearing, co-parenting, housework and the endless “taxi service” pick-ups/drop-offs associated with school-age kids. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My dad thought that looking after the family meant working hard, but not being there. I think being a good dad is working hard inside the family,” Marty says.
Meanwhile, Noosa Style Ceremonies‘ popular wedding celebrant Jay Flood, who is also director – head of content at traffic and lifestyle content supplier Flood Active, also relishes being a hands-on dad. He has two sons aged 13 and 11, whom he actively co-parents with his film publicist wife, Nicola Warman-Flood.
“I work a fair bit from home, as much as I can. And in the early days, I used to organise shifts and other work around just being able to be there from when our sons were first born,” Jay says. “It’s huge – Nicola and I have been pretty lucky – we’ve both spend most of our working lives here (Noosa) in pretty flexible roles so we’ve been able to be there for every little thing in our sons’ lives, which has kind of always been a goal.
“That’s what we always wanted to do – if we were going to have kids we wanted to be in their lives. I always talk about it with Nic – I remember coming home as a kid, probably when I was ten or 11, and saying to my mum: ‘Where’s dad?’ Well, dad was at the pub! He’d go straight from work to the pub! I can’t imagine doing that. Our dads were real authoritarian dads, who learned from their own fathers, and I’m sure some of them turned the tide a little bit.
“I’m 40 now and fatherhood has changed so much for the better. I saw my dad, when he got older, he wanted more of that connection with us kids – I have two brothers – but I think a lot of that connection comes from being there when you’re a kid and I could see him yearn for it when he got older. You can bridge those gaps and make it happen, but if you’ve got it from the very start it’s much better for the kids and much better for the parents.
“I much prefer being a hands-on dad – I hated having to leave the boys with Nicola, especially when they were littler. The whole reason you’re going to work and trying to make a life is so you can spend time with your family. When they’re little, your kids really need you to help them get a start in life, but as they go into the teenage years, emotionally they still need you a lot, but I think we’re kind of in-between that and getting ditched!”
Despite juggling two businesses, Jay says he always finds a way to spend quality time with his sons. “Just this morning, the boys came to work with me. The little guy surfs, so he goes out and then I take him to school. Even though it’s maybe a hassle for him to get up at 5am, you get to spend all that time together. And he went to school stoked because he had a surf this morning, hung out and then he had a pie. I said to him: ‘All kids don’t have this life!’ And he went to school beaming and he said: ‘Oh, this is so good.’
“All that hard work in raising kids becomes so worth it. Just this morning, a girl from work said: ‘Gee, your boys are so nice – they’ve got such good manners, they’re amazing.’ And the first thing I said was: ‘That doesn’t come naturally’. It takes time and effort, but it’s a wonderful gift to see your kids grow and develop.”
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