The evolving role of the modern dad

Reading time: 6 min

The role that a father plays in his children’s lives is critical to their development and how they’ll develop relationships of their own and engage with the world through all the stages of their childhood, to adulthood. Research highlights that just by being present, a father has a significantly positive impact on his child’s life.   Being “present” is one thing, but to truly embrace the full role of being a father is an opportunity to create an experience for yourself and your child that can form a strong, sustainable bond.

The prehistoric provider

To better understand what it means to be a dad, we need to take a moment to reflect upon our own childhood. We may reminisce about how things used to be, how simple life was and all the lessons we learned. Significant experiences and relationships that we had throughout our formative years will often be front of mind when we think back.

Consider for a moment where or how your father features in these memories. Are they positive memories that bring a smile to your face, or are they sad memories that carry hurt and pain? Are you even aware of the emotions you experience as you reflect on this?

It is important to reflect on your relationship with your own father, as this will play a significant role in how we father our own children. Our childhood experiences with our own fathers may lead us towards repeating the positives of how they were with us or, in some cases, repeating the negative experiences. Sometimes there can be such a strong desire to be nothing like our own fathers that we inadvertently end up creating very similar hurt and pain in our own children that we are trying to avoid.

Any father can understand the basics of what it means to be a father, but it takes awareness and open-mindedness to be able to reflect deeply on past experiences, and to learn, grow and develop as a result of them in order to be the best dad that they can be.

History does not need to repeat itself. Being a great dad starts with owning your own story, embracing the good and the bad and then deciding how you will use this to be the positive influence your children need.

Modern family

Reflecting on the past can often highlight the stark contrast between how life used to be and how life is now. Today’s children have access to so much information and are connected to so many people, which is the new normal, and our working world is ever-evolving at a rapid rate, along with all other aspects of our lives. But how are our families adapting to this modern time, and how are the roles within the family developing?

I work with families and parents daily, and it is always interesting to observe changes around a family, yet often families seem to remain unchanged. Where I see this the most is with parental roles, most interestingly in the role of a dad. Modern times create modern families, and modern families require modern parents that can learn from their pasts, and step out of the traditional expectations in order to accept the challenges of the time.

TV dad

Embracing the opportunity of being a dad in this modern world takes a significant amount of guts as a key requirement is to challenge the traditional norms of what fatherhood. These traditional views of parents are perpetuated through the media, movies, and television, where we see typical dynamics of a mother being more nurturing and the parent that the children speak to about things, while the father is deemed the head of the home and the disciplinarian. More often than not, we see these dads looking for ways to break away from the family to rather spend time with their friends or on their hobbies. Is this reality?

These popularised views of dads are dangerous as they can subtly create our expectations of fatherhood. Similarly, it can also create the expectations of what some woman may expect from a partner, or what children become so accustomed to viewing as normal dad behaviour. We need to be aware of how desensitised we have become to this messaging so that our children don’t accept them as the norm.

What does it mean to be a normal family today?

Is there such a thing as a regular dad? Who are we comparing ourselves to, and why? If we are not paying close attention to how we are being a dad, and why, we can easily get caught up in the very competitive nature of modern society, where keeping up with the Joneses takes preference over the actual role that we are in. We need to bear in mind that no family is the same and, as such, each dad role will be unique – and this is okay.

“Becoming a father is easy, being a dad is a continuous, and proactive activity that requires hard work and effort for the rest of our lives.”

Modern dad

Taking all of the above into consideration, we can identify particular attributes that a modern dad may have, such as:

  • Reflects on his own childhood experiences and proactively engages with his own feelings. He:
    • acknowledges the good and the bad, attempts to understand his own motivations as a dad.
    • is aware of his own emotions related to his childhood and what this might mean in his role as a dad.
  • Aware of the present situation in which his family and his children exist, and that this is different from his own childhood and carries with it a host of new challenges and opportunities.
  • Critical of the popularised and perpetuated roles of how dads are represented in media, movies and television, and embraces the opportunity to redefine his own personal role as a dad.
  • Self-aware, and comfortable with his own unique role as dad to his own children.
  • Evolving and growing over time as and when necessary. Being a dad is not a static role, and requires constant reflection and adaptation to accommodate the changes in developmental stages of your children, life stages, family changes, and just general life.
  • Determined to be the best role model to his children that he can be, irrespective of his past or current challenges.
  • Empowered and encouraged to be the best version of himself for his children.

Being a dad is a profound opportunity that allows us to be a gentle rock. We help shape our children into adults by encouraging and facilitating their growth, all the while being the anchor that keeps them safe and grounded. Becoming a father is easy, being a dad is a continuous and proactive activity that requires hard work and effort for the rest of our lives. Embrace it!

If you would like to explore the idea of a modern dad further, I will be hosting a talk on ‘Being a modern dad’ on 27 August, for more information click here.

Also read:

Dispelling some of the myths about fatherhood
Fathers need to get involved in the first 1000 days of their kids’ lives