Modern fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers are redefining what exactly fatherhood means to families and society.
Canada’s 8.1 million increasingly diverse dads are taking on a greater role in their children’s lives. This evolution in fatherhood has had positive impacts inside and outside the family home.
“This is one of the biggest social changes in our time,” said Nora Spinks, CEO, Vanier Institute of the Family. “The ‘Leave it to Beaver’ family model accounts for fewer and fewer of Canada’s families as family forms and relationships become more diverse and complex.”
Fatherhood has changed over the past 50 years. More and more Canadian dads were born outside the country, bringing with them their own ideas of what fatherhood means. More same-sex couples are raising children, one in five being male couples. Over the past 20 years, there has also been an increase in lone-parent families headed by men.
The classic father figure has traditionally been portrayed as an emotionally distant figure whose primary role was to earn the family income. This depiction overlooks diversity. Historically, many women have played a role in managing family finances and generating income inside and outside the paid labour force. In 1976, approximately one-half of Canadian families had two earners in the paid labour force. By 2008, this accounted for nearly seven in 10 families.
A growing number of military fathers now play a bigger role in their children’s lives.
“Fathers are participating in their children’s development, we see them attending our playgroups, parenting workshops, and helping out whenever they can,” said Roza Parlin, executive director, Edmonton Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC).
An increasing number of dads are leaving the bread-winning to their partners altogether so they can focus on raising children. According to Sprinks of the 501,000 families in 2011 with children at home where there is one “stay-at-home” parent, dads stayed at home in 12 per cent of these families. In 1976, only one per cent did so.
Whether they’re working or not, fathers are spending more time with their families than in the past. Statistics Canada indicates men spent 360 minutes per workday with family members in 1986. By 2010, this reached 379 minutes. Three-quarters of surveyed Canadian dads say that they’re more involved with their children than their father had been with them.
“We are thrilled to see an increased number of dads every day at drop-off and pick-up time in the Day Care. It gives them a chance to have daily engagement with the people who are caring for their children. We also are seeing a lot of dads staying and playing with their kids,” said Lucinda Humphries, child care coordinator, Edmonton MFRC.
Modern fathers continue their involvement in the lives of their children even after a marriage or common-law relationship has come to an end. More than one-third of divorced or separated parents share or alternate major decision making related to their children. Nearly one-quarter (24 per cent) of divorced or separated parents report that their children either spend equal time living with mom and dad or live primarily at the father’s residence.
“While modern fatherhood today consists of many diverse experiences, today’s generation of fathers is certainly taking on a greater, broader role in family life than in the past,” said Spinks. “As they’re sharing the bread-winning role, spending more time with family and taking more parental leave, these dads are changing what fatherhood means in Canada.”
The Vanier Institute of the Family was founded in 1965 by General The Right Honourable Georges P. Vanier as a national, independent, charitable organization dedicated to understanding the diversity and complexity of families and the reality of family life in Canada. Through publications, research initiatives, presentations and social media, the Institute works to enhance the national understanding of how families interact with, have an impact on and are affected by social, economic, environmental and cultural forces.