Growing up in the 1980's and 1990's I remember being surrounded by nostalgic moments of what being Dad was like. There would be pictures of Dads on the train coming home from work in the big city. When he arriived in his home nestled in the suburbs, he would be greeted by two kids and dinner on the table. Then there was the classic "Leave it to Beaver" moments that were left over from the popular 1950's show, which essentially was the same scenario without the train.
Of course there were also many popular late 80's and early 90's shows that reflected the changing dynamics of family life; Full House, My Two Dads, The Cosby Show, Roseanne, to name a few.
Of course TV is definitely not the only mirror reflecting culture, but for a teenage boy growing up it was a major influencer of perception. My family had a huge impact on my perception of family. Unlike the parents on television, who seemed to have endless time to spend with their families both my Mom and Dad worked really hard. We did not live in a nice Victorian home in San Francisco or loft in New York City, but in a 3 bedroom apartment in Boston. We faced many challenges growing up, but my parents were able to raise three kids, keep us out of prison and send one of us to college. Not bad, given the challenges that my working class family faced.
Now I find myself a parent. My wife and I are trying to raise one daughter and expecting another really soon. The challenges we face as working parents today are very different even from a generation ago. They are vastly different from my grandparents generation. Cultural expectations on Dads have also changed. In the 1950's and 60's as long as Dads were the providers you were doing your job. The womens' liberation movement that exploded onto the American cultural scene in the late 1960's changed the role of women and men. These changes, which are still evolving today, have had a huge impact on families.
There has been much thought and debate in the public sphere about womens' changing roles in soceity and family but I believe there has been much less discussion about what this has meant for men and their role in the family. Instead men are portrayed with popular cultural stereotypes. They are either portrayed as fat and lazy on TV or emotionally vacant beings that do not contribute to the growth of their family. We are deadbeats, non-emotional and less relevant beings in the lives of society and family. I know this is not the experience of hundreds of thousands of Dads and families across America, but I would argue we need a space to have this conversation.
All of the advancements that woman have experienced are important signs of progress and incredibly important, but I think a larger discussion needs to be had about the roles of men and Dads in the 21st century. We are no longer expected just to be the enforcer of rules and providers to our families, nor should we be. But I would argue even though the popular notion of Dads is changing, we have not had a real conversation about what this all means to the average working Dad. The lack of a honest discussion and intelligent analysis of the experience of men and dads in modern culture has left a large vacuum in the national discussion of families and society.
I hope over the next few months to have blog posts on this site that has this type of discussion and I hope to have it with as many as you as possible. I look forward to it and I hope you do too.