Definition of Fatherhood: Changing Perceptions

The “I do dishes, you do diapers” assignments that once defined mixed parenting may be a thing of the past. But the shifting parental landscape, where dads are expected to be involved physically, economically and emotionally, is not so easily defined.

“Families are taking a hard look at how they want to raise their families,” said Lance Somerfeld, co-founder of Citydads, a nationwide organization designed to help dads support one another as they navigate through fatherhood.

“In the last five years the perception in society is starting to warm up about dads’ roles,” he said. “And men are seeing their peers more active and tuned in with their families.”

But yet many dads grapple with defining their expectations and desires.

“There’s a void in a kind of bigger conversation as to the role fathers could and should play,” said Will Brigden, who is the dad of a 5-month old and is coordinating the creation of a fathers’ group in the New Paltz area. “There’s a lot of literature and trends about dads being open and supportive, but when you say it to a guy it bounces off. What does it really mean?”

Brigden is quick to point out he’s operating only from his own experiences, but many of them seem universal for the dads of today’s young children.

“We didn’t grow up with the ‘buck up and be a man’ thing, so there’s a feeling we just innately know how to be open emotionally and supportive,” he said. “But there’s another level of openness and it takes a lot of strength — strength in a different way — so that we’re not vulnerable, but accessible. It’s something you wrestle with as you get older, and as a man, and certainly now in your role as a father.”

Since much of our lives build upon past experiences, it’s also challenging to define new roles for established assumptions.

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