How to Build a Father, Part two. In Part One of this series, we talked a little bit about men and fatherhood and some of the problems we see effecting today’s dads. Today I want to get into a bit more of the history of why and when things began to go awry within our homes and communities so that we can create a plan that will put things back into their proper place and give every home a strong foundation for parenting. As with any plan for the future, we first must understand where we’ve been. So let’s begin.
If we were to go back 100 years to the 1920s, we’d find a picture of fatherhood that is very different from what we see today. Being a father in that timeframe meant, primarily, for him to financially provide for his family and offer disciplinary back up, but very little more. This was not because fathers didn’t care to have much more to do with their children. It had more to do with extreme work hours and having little time or energy to do any more than offer those types of support. Being the provider was his role within the home, and he knew it and understood it well. He did it well. But to do anything within the home was considered beneath him. That was women’s work.
Thankfully there were positive changes. In the 1920’s there was an effort to establish the early labor unions in the United States. This helped to create more favorable working conditions, and as a result by the late 1930s there was a greater push for fathers to take a more active role in parenting the children. And things seemed to be going well until WWII hit.
In the years after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, many things happened. First, the vast majority of men of fighting age in each community were drafted into the military to fight the war. Most spent years away overseas. (Many never returned. Over 180,000 children were left without fathers after that war.)
Out of necessity during the war, several changes happened with the women who were left behind. First, they found themselves responsible for providing all of the day-to-day needs of their families. Many had never seen the banking, much less been responsible for bill-paying. But it didn’t stop there. There were few plumbers or repairmen remaining on the home front. Women began to figure out for themselves how to repair their homes and fend for themselves, all while acting as single parents–some to upwards of 6, 8, or even 10 children at the time!
Also, for the first time in history, women were encouraged to find employment outside the home. They were needed in the factories to produce ammunition and other war effort required items as well as to keep the economy moving. Factory owners did not want to have to halt production for the duration of the war, so they turned to women.
Working in the factories or in any position that supported the war became a symbol of her Patriotism. The government even provided free daycare centers so that moms could go to work each day, and for many of these women, they found great satisfaction in their work. It was a delight to bring the children to a safe place to play all day while they went on their way to learn new skills and work in factories. They prided themselves on providing their children with all of the needs that the children’s father used to provide.
Prior to the war there was already a push for female equality. Everything that happened during that war pushed those efforts even further ahead. For some women, that was exactly what they longed for, but for many of us, we now know of that war as the beginning of the end of life as we long for it.
After the war ended and the soldiers began to return to their homes, the glow of return soon faded into a gloomy reality. In his book Of War and Men, Ralph LaRossa quotes from one woman’s letter to her soon-to-be-returning husband:
“Sweetie, I want to make sure I make myself clear about how I’ve changed. I want you to know now that you are not married to a girl that’s interested solely in a home–I shall definitely work all my life–I get emotional satisfaction out of working; and I don’t doubt that many a night you will cook the supper while I’m at a meeting. Also dearest–I shall never wash and iron–there are laundries for that! Do you think you’ll be able to bear living with me?”
The men began to realize that while they were away, they had essentially become dispensable. Many of the young children didn’t know their now-returning fathers at all and were terrified of them. The majority of men felt that the children were now spoiled and undisciplined, yet when they attempted to step in, the wives would stand between father and child. It was only natural that the wives all over the nation who were very accustomed to acting in the role of mom and dad resisted dad’s attempts to re-enter as disciplinarian and leader. Divorce rates doubled. Men no longer knew where they fit in at all.
Magazine articles, new articles, and even comic strips from the late 40’s and early 1950’s often depicted men as incompetent. Note that that is the exact opposite of how men were depicted in the early 40’s when they were away at war. At that time those same men who were fighting the enemy to protect their families were considered heroes. Apparently, those days were forgotten.
Some believe men’s roles as leaders within the family unit never quite recovered from the blow of WWII. I would have to agree. And things only got worse as we entered into the 60’s and 70’s when feminism really began to rear its ugly head.
Yes. Some positive things came out of the feminist movement. Yes. Some things were long overdue. Overall, however, I believe that for every positive movement for women in the workplace, there was a negative movement for women at home. No. Let me correct that. There was a negative movement for everyone at home.
Look at young men today. Years ago a 20-something year old man would have been working, marrying, focusing on providing for his family. Today it is rare to find a 20-something-year-old male who isn’t focused on playing video games. And why not? He doesn’t need to find a wife. There are plenty of scantily-clad young women strutting around who don’t ever wish to marry, but who will gladly take those young men to their beds for a night or two.
And young women who are interested in marrying are absolutely in love with the idea of planning a wedding, but they have little idea of what being married is really about! Traditional relationships are not taught anymore. The ones who would be teaching these concepts to their daughters are the ones who were brought up in the middle of the feminist movement. They were taught the exact opposite. Therefore, the traditional marriage is essentially dead.
And who’s to blame? Women are. Those who were content in their domesticity and would never have wished to leave it didn’t speak up when the feminist movement was in full-roar. They were struck by the bystander effect, I think. And now we live in an age where it is difficult for a young woman who wants to be a stay-at-home mom to find support and encouragement. In fact, it’s almost financially impossible to be a stay-at-home mother at all. This would never have happened if those who pushed domestic life away had been equally opposed by those who wished to maintain it.
So. That’s where we stand. That’s the bad news. But there is good news. It’s not too late. We can do something about it–if not in our communities, then in our homes. We can decide how to live within our own four walls. But to do so, there is first some healing needed.
If you are coming from a conflicted marriage, I encourage to you go back and read the articles in the Love & Marriage section before proceeding. As you can see, we have been taught to mistreat the very men we proclaim to love. Until we undo the damage, he is going to be suspicious and likely non-cooperative. But you can undo the damage.
If your marriage is stable and you are both on the same page for where you want to take you parenting, the next step is actually achieved within your Marriage Agreement contract, within the section on Parenting. (An entire post on how to create a comprehensive marriage agreement is coming in the first weeks of July. Please stay tuned! Your marriage will thank you for it!)
It is incredibly important to have a long discussion with your spouse to discuss all aspects of parenting your children. (Yes he will groan at the thought, but that’s because you likely haven’t allowed him to parent before. Why would he think you will now? You must explain that you are trying to change and you need his help.) I will outline all of the intricate details of preparing that agreement in a few weeks, but for now you can begin by having a talk about what being a mother means to you, what you see his fatherhood meaning to you and then by listening to his views of those same things. Start by openly and calmly discussing your individual roles. Who is responsible for what? Agree upon it. Write it down.
Next talk about how each of you was raised. What types of discipline were used? It’s important to know this frame of reference for each of you. What do you think worked? What didn’t? Which do you want to utilize for your own children? Agree on it now. Because the next step is going to be the toughest.
Once you agree on roles. Once you agree on the path on which you want to raise your children. Once you agree on forms of acceptable discipline, you must then get out of his way. Allow him the same respect you wish from him. Prepare to bite the inside of your cheeks until they bleed. And then watch as a miracle happens.
Over the weeks and years to come, watch him blossom as a father. I have witnessed that when a man is free to discipline, he also becomes free to become tender and loving. When he knows he is a role-model, he will step it up in all aspects of his living. When he interacts with your child, it is on a new level. He will bond unlike ever before.
When he sees that he has a definable role within your home and that you are prepared to give him the respect and space that he needs to fill that role, he will step up. But if you have demeaned him or interfered with his fathering in the past, it will take time for him to believe you. You will have to stick to your guns, bite those cheeks, walk away silently when you can’t bear it. You have to trust him.
Disclaimer: This does not in any way mean that you are to stand by while abuse in any form occurs. That is an entirely different story and should be addressed immediately. Never stand for abuse. Ever. But if you see him chastising your child for something the child did that was against your agreed upon parameters, and he is using an agreed upon form of discipline, you must clamp your lips shut and step back. Let him work it out. Difficult? oh yes. Almost impossible sometimes. Almost. But not impossible. If you want it, you can do it.
The last thing I’m going to talk about here in Part 2 is a unique clause that I think ought to be in every Marriage Agreement, regardless of whether there are children in your home or not, but is especially important if there are. Every afternoon men by the millions pour into the local bar rooms and taverns to have a beer or two (or more) before they can get themselves to head home. If you ask them why, they will tell you that home is not a pleasant place. They walk in to a badgering wife, unruly kids, and chaos, so it’s easier to not go home. Please consider including in your agreements the following clause: A buffer zone.
Help with dad’s transition from work to home by granting him 20 minutes of peace when he walks in the door. Let him come in. Settle in with a drink. Relax. Read. Shower. Whatever helps him unwind and make the transition. Give him an agreed upon amount of time to prepare himself mentally to go from the war zone of his workplace to the peace zone of his home. And then take it one step further. Do not attack him with bad news about you day or how the kids have been behaving. Wait until he asks about your day (which he will when he is mentally prepared to help you through what you have to report.) Make coming home a pleasant experience for him, and then ask for the same courtesy when you arrive home from running errands and such.
In fact, why not turn this idea into this year’s first Father’s Day gift. Create some kind of certificate granting him 20 Minutes of Peace and Quiet every day for the next year. The kids can help create it. You can even get them on board with the idea if they are old enough to understand the concept. Then when he walks in you can remind the kids that it’s time for dad’s 20 minutes of Peace!! Shhhhhh…
Later this week: part 3 in the series. We’ll wrap up with answering questions submitted by readers, more father’s day ideas, some vintage photos and celebration ideas, and more!