The Changing Face of Fatherhood in Connecticut
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Dads . . . we all have one but not all of us can be one.
And even if you can be one, being a good one—or at least a quasi-competent one who will not ruin your kids any more than “normal”—can certainly be a challenge in the second decade of the 21st century. With so much more available to children with each generation, from social media and smartphones to designer drugs and an ever-increasing number of violent games and media, and with so many ways to turn, it’s getting tougher by the minute—Mike Brady would be frazzled just trying to keep up with his kids’ Instagram feeds alone. And Phil Dunphy might be the father of a “Modern Family,” but he seems overwhelmed more often than not.
Of course, no matter how much TV and movies try to portray “real” fatherhood, the real story is always dramatically different, as the “24/7 Dad” group suggests—very rarely can a family crisis be wrapped up in 30 minutes, or even over the span of a few days. Not many actual dads are lovable goofballs who somehow manage to do the right thing in the end. And the concept of the nuclear family (Mom, Dad, 2.5 kids and a dog named Santa’s Little Helper) has essentially been nuked.
Here in Connecticut, a.k.a. the Land of Steady Habits, “traditional” household rates have been steadily declining. According to U.S. Census data, in 2000, there were 676,467 married households, or 52 percent of the state population. By 2010, that number had dipped to 672,013, or only 49 percent, despite the overall population of the state having grown from 3.41 million to 3.57 million. In other words, there are more single parents—and single dads—than ever before, which means fatherhood has become an evolving enterprise.
“With the advent of the feminist movement and things associated with that, with women joining the work force in unprecedented numbers since the 1970s, the roles of mothers and fathers have been significantly redefined,” says Ronald Rohner, professor emeritus of human development and family studies at UConn, as well as director of the Ronald and Nancy Rohner Center for the Study for Interpersonal Acceptance and Rejection. He has spent decades studying the relationships between parents and children, both here in Connecticut and around the globe.
“Whereas traditionally Dad’s role was kind of an instrumental one, task-oriented and sometimes a disciplinarian—the old Victorian idea—and Mom’s role was more of a nurturer and the affective role, that dichotomy, however true that might’ve been, these gender roles have been transformed enormously,” he says. “Now dads, very often, are playing more of the nurturing role than ever before in American history at the same time that mothers are playing more of the instrumental role as they continue on in the workplace.”
Anecdotally, most of us know this, as it seems fathers are now more actively involved in their children’s lives than ever before. If you’ve never witnessed it firsthand, just go to any daytime school event, which used to be a nearly mom-exclusive domain, and you will now see an abundance of dads in attendance, often actively participating behind the scenes as well.
A recent study from the National Center for Health Statistics also bears this out. Comparing data from surveys done in 2002 and 2006-10 shows increased involvement from fathers (both those who lived full-time with their children and nonresident dads) in almost every aspect of child rearing—nearly nine out of ten resident fathers reported that several times a week they played with and bathed or dressed their children under age 5; the same percentage also reported eating meals with and talking about the day with older kids aged 5-18. Nonresident fathers also were more heavily involved in the daily lives of their children, participating more regularly in helping with homework and transportation to activities.
The U.S. Census has also shown that the number of stay-at-home dads has more than doubled in the last decade, going from 98,000 in 2003 to 214,000 by 2013.