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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante  

The changing role of fathers

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante 

Growing up in Winnipeg in the 80s and 90s, my parents (like many other Filipino-Canadian immigrant families at the time) had an arrangement to work opposite shifts. Because my father worked an early morning shift and my mother worked evening hours, they were able to independently manage caring for my three siblings and me. Now that I am a therapist and often study family dynamics and relationships, I appreciate the great sacrifice that so many parents in that generation made to ensure that their children were taken care of. In honour of Father’s Day, it is worthwhile to take a look back at recent history to appreciate the responsibilities and roles that fathers have had over the years, and how the modern day father has emerged.

The role of the fathers in the 17th century was quite different from how it is today. During those times, in many cultures, the father was the breadwinners and seen as the head of the family, ruling over major decisions involving land, property, and finances. He had the final say in the lives of his wife and children. A father was responsible for the development of the children’s moral and religious values, so discipline fell into his territory. Because it was thought that any affection would spoil the child, fathers often had distant, authoritarian relationships with their kids.

The Industrial Revolution in the 19th century brought with it urbanization, where cities and towns developed and people began living and working in central areas. Factories emerged as major places of employment, and fathers were distanced from their families, working away from the home. The role of the mother shifted too as they became more central in the teaching and discipline of the children.

Another important shift occurred in the 1940s when a remarkable increase in women entering the workforce was seen. Once again, men became more involved with the household and child rearing responsibilities. Interestingly, fathers were not only the providers of the family, but they began to become nurturers as well. Fathers began to have more playful and affectionate relationships with their kids, and were not so distant from family experiences.

A review of recent Canadian family trends highlights how different the modern world is for fathers compared to centuries ago. According to Statistics Canada, 83 per cent of recent fathers in Quebec had the intention of claiming for parental leave in 2013 whereas 12.2 per cent of new fathers in other provinces claimed the same. In 2011, a male parent headed 21 per cent of single-parent families. Also, the average amount of time that men spend with family members has increased since the 1980s. With regards to housework, 77 per cent of men in 2005 reported involvement, whereas this figure grew to 81 per cent in 2010. Clearly, the role of fathers is not so distant from their spouses and children as it once was. Couples are now more likely to view housework and raising children as a team effort.

Reflecting on my own childhood, I absolutely appreciate the hands-on role that my own father took. Because he was home after school, I saw him more than I did my mother. Even though he would be tired from work, he made sure that we ate, did our homework and went to bed at an early hour. Whenever I asked for help with homework, he was there to answer as best he could. He valued education and I inherited this from him. I remember the day that he bought his children an encyclopedia to reference for schoolwork. He was definitely protective and could be strict at times, but he had a gentleness about him that I see when he talks to my own children today. My father taught me the importance of working hard and cherishing your loved ones – values that I hold very close to my heart.

Wishing you and your family a Happy Father’s Day!

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.