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Clarifying the meaning of fatherhood.

Wanted: Father. Must be able to help support family, care for children, cook and clean, be loving partner to wife and mother, and playmate to kids. Preference given to dependable candidates.

Fatherhood is a familiar function, but not one whose duties always are defined clearly, according to Robert Griswold, associate professor of history and women's studies, University of Oklahoma, and author of Fatherhood in America: A History. "There is a debate in society today over father's roles. Fatherhood has lost its cultural coherence. It's no longer clear what we want, what we expect from fathers."

American fatherhood has changed enormously in the past two centuries, notes Griswold, who drew upon surveys, magazines, scientific literature, letters to an advice columnist, government documents, historical works, autobiographies, newspaper articles, and memoirs for his research. Until recent times, the word "father" was almost synonymous with "breadwinner." During the 1920s and 1930s, though, social scientists and magazine editors encouraged men to take a more active role in their offspring's lives as intellectual and psychological role models. "The opinion was that fathers needed to be, in a sense, a buddy." However, these "buddies" weren't required to take on any of the daily chores of child rearing.

"When men were the sole breadwinners, that brought some obvious responsibilities and some real benefits for men," including higher pay scales and preferential treatment in the workplace. These practices continued even after World War II, when more and more females began entering the workforce. At the same time, women were expected to be almost completely responsible for the daily operations of the home. Griswold points out that it was the advent of women's entry into the labor force and feminism that finally challenged traditional ideas about fatherhood. Today, the majority of females work outside the home. Although many household and child-rearing duties--the so-called "second shift" that adds 10-15 hours to the average woman's work week--still are squarely on mother's shoulders, the situation has improved, he maintains.

"Men to resist these changes. Men are more comfortable being their children's intellectual and physical companions, and sometimes less comfortable doing the physical things that you have to do to keep a family going. But with women working 40 hours a week, men can't say, "Well, you're still going to have to cook, clean, manage the household finances, see that the children have shoes, attend the PTA..."What kind of rationale can you make for that? Recent changes have made parenting a negotiable enterprise."

Up for negotiations are such matters as, if a child is sick, who misses work? Who takes care of the house? Who makes major purchasing decisions? "It used to not be an issue," Griswold says, adding that negotiations are a necessary by-product of a two-income household and also a positive change for women. However, he admits, today's family life can be difficult. "Negotiations changed relationships in families. Many people in a two-income family are now uncomfortable with the concept of 'head of the household.' They have to decide what the structure is."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Society for the Advancement of Education
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Dec 1, 1993
Words:502
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