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Fatherhood In The Past And Fatherhood Today; What Changed?

Father's Day

Children watching their father open Father’s Day gift | Photo Essence

It’s Father’s day this weekend and we are examining how fatherhood has evolved over the years from disciplinarian to a more nurturing role.

In the past, fathers were distant figures. They could stop providing, cut children off, love the ones they want to love and were rarely made accountable for wounds they may have inflicted on their families.

Over time, the concept of the distant and feared dad has continued to diminish. These days we have the modern-day father who comes in unique forms: he could be single, work or stay-at-home with the kids, he could also be an adoptive or a stepparent. More common is that he is not afraid of showing his affection to his children.


Psychological research on families from all ethnic backgrounds suggests that fathers’ affection and increased family involvement help promote children’s social and emotional development. Fatherly love helps children develop a sense of their place in the world, which helps their social, emotional and cognitive development. Kids who receive more love from their fathers are less likely to struggle with behavioural or substance abuse problems.

Most people didn’t look to their fathers for affection growing up and it was accepted for fathers to be gruff so long as they provided for the family. Now fatherhood is more complex; being a breadwinner doesn’t make it okay for you to be emotionally unavailable.

Father bottle feeding his child

Father bottle feeding his child | Photo Babymigo

Tunji is a data scientist and his wife was a stay-at-home mum in the first 4 years of their marriage: “For a long time we survived solely on my income, yet when I got home from work, the kids wanted me to bathe them, help with homework, play with them. When I was growing up, all my father had to do was provide food for the family. Now my wife works and this hasn’t changed, my children are still emotionally demanding.”

For Ekanem it is different in his family, “When I was growing up, my mother left discipline mainly to my father and phrases like ‘wait till your father gets home’ was used to scare children into behaving better. Now mothers discipline children and forget to tell the man what happened while he was away. I think that is the part of modern-day parenting that I don’t like. A man should still be in charge of disciplining his children.”

The reason for this according to an article in the American Psychology Association may be that in more recent decades, the changing economic role of women has affected the role of fathers. Between 1948 and 2001, the percentage of working-age women employed or looking for work nearly doubled–from less than 33% to over 60%. Their increase in financial power made paternal financial support less necessary for some families. Today’s fathers have taken on roles different from fathers of previous generations.

A cute preschool-age African American boy sits on his dad’s lap at the table and uses colored pencils to draw in a coloring book.<strong style="font-size: 16px;"> </strong>

The Ways Fatherhood Has Changed
Playfulness: We now experience more playfulness with fathers. Temi, a doctor said, “the most playfulness I got from dad was pats in the head and smiles. And I remember my friends used to envious of me because their fathers withheld affection even more.” Now more fathers will get in the sand and play with children without thinking too much about it. 

Commendation: It didn’t come easily to fathers in the past to complement their children easily. Emily has this to say, “there was this time I heard my dad talking to our guests about my grades. He didn’t know I was home that evening, I overheard him boasting about how proud he was of my academic accomplishments. When I walked into the room, he stopped talking.” Modern fathers use positive re-enforcement to sustain outstanding performance in their children.

Accessibility: Children have the freedom to talk to their fathers more than it was possible in the past. Now fathers communicate freely with their children. Very few topics are off-limits with the modern father.

Emotional Availability: In the past, fathers were mainly involved in protecting their children’s physically, now fathers want to be part of every little detail of their children’s wellbeing from mental to physical health.

In their defense, fathers of the past were not equipped with the resources available to young fathers these days. Hence were focused on the traditional of provider and disciplinarian. We hear comments like, “my dad has is no longer as tough as he was before” because the older dad is less inflexible, more reflective and receives love. He is also evolving.

Is the modern father better than fathers in the past? Perhaps not. Today’s fathers have simply developed with the times and are doing a splendid job of protecting their families while accepting that being openly affectionate does not make you less of a father.

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