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The changing role of a father

Photographs: Unsplash

Text: Monika Pedersen

The month of June celebrates fathers, and as my diary reminds me to send a card, I take a moment to consider the role my father played in my life in the era of traditional fatherhood.

A traditional father

A father was considered the head of the family. My father was the overseer of our nuclear family. He approached the role with a very authoritative spirit. Negotiation was not something he entertained!

He set the rules by which he expected us to behave and live. For example, we had to be respectful, work hard at school, bring home a strong report card, keep our bedrooms tidy, help our mum with household chores, etc.

He was the disciplinarian who decided what consequences would be issued for misbehaviour. His favourite 'punishment' was sending me outside to turn over the soil and de-weed flowerbeds in the garden!

He had a good job, but my mother also worked. She had a low-paid job; thus, he was the family's 'main provider', who oversaw all household expenses, budgets, and savings. My mother had not much influence in this area.

He was also a remote and aloof man. He was not one who would show his love in a demonstrative fashion. Instead, any emotional display would come from our mother.

And, along the same theme, sadly, he appeared too 'busy' with administrative tasks or household upgrades, so he was not one to take us to the park or swimming or collect us from a social event. It seemed as if this was not a good use of his time. This was 'woman's work'.

Half a century and more has passed, and there has, fortunately, been a huge shift away from this traditional father role.

"The opportunity to spend time with the family and be involved with the upbringing of one's child brings many benefits to the child and the child's mother."

Modern fatherhood

In Denmark, fathers are clearly recognised as equals in a relationship, not superior. This is highlighted by the fact that fathers, by law, can enjoy equal paternity leave. When a child is born, fathers are provided with two weeks of paternity leave to encourage the connection between a newborn and a father and help with the new routines. They are then expected to take another 9 weeks, and 13 weeks can be negotiated between a couple. This indicates that fatherhood is a man's responsibility and not just a female one, which was part of the traditional model.

The opportunity to spend time with the family and be involved with the upbringing of one's child brings many benefits to the child and the child's mother. For example, in a household where a father is actively involved in a child's upbringing, a child is more likely to develop socially and emotionally, have a good sense of respectful behaviour, and do well at school. Researchers also commented that an involved father can help to prevent teenage girls from falling into depression, drug dependency, or pregnancy as they have a positive male role model and greater emotional security.

The supportive fatherly approach, rather than the authoritative one, involves being an advice giver, a listener, and someone who encourages discussion regarding household rules and consequences. The stance is to foster a mutually valued understanding rather than a top-down ruling. As a result, a child can have a voice and the chance to self-advocate. These are vital skills needed to navigate today's complex world.

A balanced family household of equals provides a woman with the opportunity to return to work. This can influence the economic situation and reduce any financial worries. It also retains a woman's status as an individual with choices. This is important to a mother's well-being, as it can reduce feelings of little self-worth or dependency. In addition, a more equitable sharing of tasks allows each partner to better appreciate family life demands. This, in turn, enhances the support each partner gives to one another, which helps to sustain partnerships.


It is important to note that the examples here depict a typical nuclear family. However, today's society has a much wider spectrum of recognised households. It is no longer the case that father figures need to be male. The crucial factors are the interactions, approach, and love bestowed on a child within a family unit. These are the core of providing a child with a solid foundation in life from which they can springboard.


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