The Last Word



This month my hubby, Sam, and I will celebrate our 34th anniversary.  Wow, where DID the time go?  In 1978 he not only made this long-term commitment to me, but also to my two kids who were six and eight at the time.



Part of the women’s movement at that period was the expectation that men would take on household duties equal to those of the woman.  As I look back now I’m pretty amazed that we were both naive and optimistic enough to expect such enormous changes in a society where the woman’s role as caretaker and the man’s role as bread winner were so entrenched.



Now 30+ years later studies show that in fact there have been shifts in attitudes about the role of men, particularly as fathers.



“Fathers are no longer seen as just providers or occasional babysitters, but as actively engaged in their children’s emotional and daily lives, down to their routine care,” says Lauren Rinelli McClain, an assistant professor of sociology at Savannah State University.



A recent study at Ohio State University reported that men who are involved in their children’s lives in meaningful ways have lower incidences of depression, substance abuse and other risky behaviors.  Study subjects also reported better physical health.



And in terms of children’s well-being, studies show that steady emotional involvement of fathers results in lower anxiety levels in kids.



However, in their roles as husbands, men still have difficulty with intimacy; that old cultural training to be independent, not needy, is hard to break.



Men also are now experiencing what women have long struggled with:  trying to do it all, or have it all.  The Family and Work Institute recently found an acceleration in “work-family conflicts” with 60% of respondents saying it was an issue in 2008 (up from 35% in 1977).



Dr. Scott Coltrane of the University of Oregan speculates that American culture may be on its way to phasing out the gendered roles of “husband and wife” and “father and mother” and replacing them with the functional roles of “spouse and parent.”



Finally, there are major changes taking place in the institution of marriage itself.  The number of men who already have children before marriage nearly doubled in the 2000s over the previous decade.



With fathers who don’t ever marry the mothers of their children, a high proportion say they want to be involved in raising their child; the mothers also want the father’s involvement even when they are not in a romantic relationship with each other.



Wonderful changes that should lead to healthier children and stronger relationships of all kinds.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker