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Father's Day

Father’s Day celebrates all sorts of dads

6/12/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Pam Lifke

Robert Levant
GREATER AKRON — For much of the 113 years since the first Father’s Day was celebrated, a father’s role was that of protector, provider and disciplinarian. In the past 50 years, however, the role has expanded to include cook, grocery shopper and homework helper — and children and their dads are better for it, according to a nationally known expert.

Robert Levant, Ed.D, associate professor of psychology at The University of Akron and editor of the journal “Psychology of Men and Masculinity,” published by the American Psychological Association, said today’s dads know their children better and have stronger relationships with them. Their children get a chance to really know their fathers and have the advantage of two involved caretakers instead of relying only on mom, he added.

Although the Ward Cleaver paradigm of fatherhood survives today, it’s safe to say Ward wouldn’t see much of himself in many of today’s dads.

“Fathers are different from the way they used to be,” Levant said. “It’s very interesting. The whole cultural concept of a father has changed dramatically in the last 50 years — just a couple of generations.”

Ward Cleaver, the fictional father in the popular 1950s and early 1960s TV series “Leave it to Beaver,” got involved with the children when his son, “The Beav,” got in trouble. Ward’s job was to be the family provider and the disciplinarian, Levant said.

“That was really his role,” he said.

Comparatively few families today mimic the idealized Cleavers.

“Dads who are in families like the Cleavers’ [two parents in a first marriage] roles have changed,” Levant said.

The wives are likely to hold down jobs even when there are small children in the family and dad has become a co-provider and a co-parent, he added.

Today’s fathers are more likely to divide the housekeeping and parenting chores with their wives and be responsible for the morning shift of getting the children up, dressed and fed before school or the evening shift of settling children into homework and evening routines while starting dinner, Levant said. And with these new roles, dads are responsible for things like laundry and grocery shopping they would not have considered in Ward’s day, Levant said.

“Family work,” a combination of child care and housework, has increased dramatically since the 1960s for fathers in first marriages, Levant said. Fathers have gone from doing almost no family work in the ’60s to about 38 percent of the family work, Levant said.

“Although it’s still not 50-50, it’s a little more equal,” he said. “Dads have become a more integral part of their families. I definitely think it’s a good thing — good for fathers, good for families.”

With divorce rates for first marriages around 50 percent, there are plenty of other types of families that require men to recast their roles as fathers. A divorced single father with child visitation is a fairly common family type today, Levant said. Fewer in number, but still significant, are divorced single fathers with custody, Levant said.

A fourth family type is the two-parent household with a stay-at-home-dad. In this case, the father either decided he would be the homemaker while his wife is the provider or was forced into the role because of a job loss, Levant said.

“This family type got a big boost during the Great Recession,” he said.

Sometimes called the “Mancession,” the recent economic downturn hit men harder than women, Levant said, adding men’s unemployment has been higher than women’s since 2008. In these situations, the decision to become a stay-at-home father may be entirely practical, since there may be no money for child care in a one-income family, he said.

Totally new, Levant said, is the openly gay father creating a family through adoption or surrogacy.

Levant’s interest in the evolution of fathers stemmed from his personal experience. Married in the 1970s while in college, Levant became a young father. When his marriage broke up, he had custody of his daughter each summer while he was a graduate student at Harvard University and later as an assistant professor at Boston University.

“I thought I was pretty bad at [parenting]. … Here I was, pretending to be an expert on parenting, and I was totally clueless as a father.”

Levant said he realized he wasn’t alone and in the 1980s, while at Boston University, launched The Fatherhood Project, a parent education program for fathers.

Today, Levant said he has a good relationship with his adult daughter and is very involved in the lives of his two grandsons.

The first Father’s Day was celebrated in 1910 in Spokane, Washington, at the urging of Sonora Dodd, who was raised by her father after her mother died in childbirth, according the Library of Congress website, www.loc.com. President Woodrow Wilson approved the idea in 1916, but it didn’t become an official holiday until President Lyndon Johnson declared the third Sunday in June would be known as Father’s Day. President Richard Nixon made it permanent in 1972.

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