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The important "father role" in the family

A father's role in the family is vital to a child's psychological and physical well-being. When a child has a healthy relationship with a father figure, they tend to grow up to have higher levels of psychological health and better quality relationships.

Photograph: Private photograph

Text: Lyndsay Jensen

It's essential to remember that the term father does not solely apply to biological relationships, nor does it only apply to a husband and wife relationship. Same-sex couples, transgender men who are parents, and single fathers can provide just as meaningful parent-child relationships as families with a husband and wife. There is no one type of family where the child enjoys the healthiest father-child relationship.

Father figures:

  • May not be related at all to the child or children they care for

  • May be a step-parent (bonus far)

  • May have adopted a child or children

Regardless of what the family looks like, the most crucial factor is the quality of the parent-child relationship.

What are the roles of fathers in modern families?

Fathers today are expected to parent and assist with household chores equally with their partners. There have been studies related to married men and women who had just had their first child. The results illustrated that a good partnership and an effort to reduce their wife's stress led to overall decreased aggravation for both partners, even when their baby was fussy. Fathers take on multiple roles within the family, such as financial contributors, supportive partners, loving parents, and sometimes stay-at-home dads.

Why dad is important

A father figure can significantly influence the life and well-being of a child. In families where the father figure is present, the father serves as one of the first male role models and male relationships the child will encounter. Children are extremely sensitive and observant and internalise relational experiences. These early interactions serve as a blueprint for what a relationship with a man looks like. This can impact both the father-son relationship and the father-daughter relationship. This means that unhealthy relationships with a father figure can significantly impact the child's psychological well-being and unconscious choices as they become adults.

It's been shown that if a child has a healthy relationship with their father, they tend to have higher self-esteem, confidence, and more stable relationships with men. Conversely, if a child has an unhealthy relationship with their father, they may experience more psychological distress and struggle with forming healthy relationships with men as they become adults.

Changing role of modern-day dad

The "hands-on dad" idea has taken shape in the past several decades. Historically, men's identities were heavily tied to their careers, which still holds somewhat true today, with about 76% of men reporting that they feel financial pressure to provide for their families. However, more than ever, men are taking a more active role in parenting, and the Corona pandemic with its forced work-from-home status proved that. As a result, some fathers went from only working to sharing that caregiver role with their partners who needed to work.

There is still the notion out there that believe that women are better caretakers when it comes to child-rearing, and few believe that men are better caregivers than women. So it's interesting for me, as a non-Dane, to see how clearly involved Danish men are in their children's upbringing. A recent report for the Nordic countries shows that fathers want to be with their children early on. Between 89 percent (in Denmark) and 96 percent (in Sweden) say they want to be very involved in the early months and years of their children's lives.

When I first married my Dane 25 years ago and had our first child in South Africa, my friends were blown away by how maternal and hands-on he was with the child care, chores around the house and cooking. I realised how true this was once I started observing my friends around us. I was always asked: Are they all like that in Denmark? Of course, I hope things are improving in South Africa, but I can honestly say that Denmark and other Scandi countries are leading the way for equal parenting.

Cheers to our dads!

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