Man-Up: The Evolving Role of the Modern Father

Archive, Fatherhood, Man Stuff

Your image of man. A man’s man. Think about it. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you’re like me, it looks something like this:


Or maybe this:


But certainly not this:


The gender roles of old seemed much clearer than they are currently. Men worked, women stayed at home. Men were strong, women were nurturing. Men were dominant, women were subservient. I mean, seriously, it wasn’t too long ago when magazines ran ads like this:

vintage-sexist-ads (27)[2]

While these stereotypes are thankfully nearing extinction, the residue of this kind of cultural conditioning is still found throughout society. In fact, surveys show that “60 to 70 percent of men still agree with the notion that masculinity depends on emotional stoicism — never showing fear, never showing pain.” So while gender roles have shifted dramatically in the last 50 years, “most men still cling tenaciously to an ideology of masculinity that comes off the set of Mad Men.” Which is why I still think cowboys and construction workers to be typical men rather than, say, stay-at-home dads who blog.

But when I really think about it, the majority of men my age (at least the ones I know) don’t fit the old male stereotype. It seems we’re in this weird cultural limbo, a transition in which gender expectations of old are cross-contaminated with new, contemporary expectations. We’re to be masculine yet emotional. A protector and a nurturer.

It’s truly a confusing time to be a man.

It is possible though. This whole simultaneous provider and caregiver thing. Just look at women. For years they’ve been admirably closing the gap on gender equality in terms of education and bread-winning while maintaining their classic role of nurturer. I’ve got a mom who does this better than anyone I know. Meanwhile, men have been slow to admit their new position in society. Yes, I’m afraid we have some catching up to do.


  • In 1965, fathers spent 42 hours a week at their paid job and did about 4 hours of housework while mothers clocked in 8 hours at paid work and did 32 hours of housework. In 2011, fathers spent 37 hours at work while doing 10 hours of housework, and women spent 21 hours at paid work and 18 hours doing housework.
  • In the past 20 years, the number of stay-at-home fathers has doubled (from 1 million to 2 million).
  • 46% of fathers say they don’t spend enough time with their kids.
  • Since the mid-80s, men have been getting fewer college degrees than women. The number today is 60%/40% in favor of women.
  • Today, 40% of moms provide the sole or primary source of income

To me, that last statistic is very telling. The trend here is obviously a dramatic shift toward financial and caregiving equality. Women are going to continue to level the playing field in terms of income, education, and jobs, and that means men need to adapt by being more involved at home. Good news is that all signs point to that shift already occurring.


Since I first heard I was going to be a father, I’ve been thinking more and more about what it means to be a man. I’ve also thought a lot about my childhood and what I remember of my own father during those years. He worked hard. He built things in the backyard. He had a truck. He rarely showed affection. He was a great father, and I truly value the way he raised me, but I realize now he fits much more the “man of old” than I ever will. My hands are much more comfortable behind a MacBook than they’ll ever be with a hammer and nail (although I’m trying). And the last thing my father would ever do is blog.

So herein lies the predicament. How does one adapt the things they respect and value in their father’s model of man while tweaking the parts that have lost relevancy in our rapidly evolving world? For in the same way the internet changed music, media, and just about everything else, things like gender equality, the declination of manufacturing jobs, and other contemporary realities have altered gender roles as we know it.

The times they are a’changin and so too is the architecture of man.

It’s a phenomenon that began rearing its head since the late 70s/early 80s. Enough time has now elapsed to know that things have certainly changed,  yet today there’s still no consensus about the role of the modern father like there was just 50 years ago, when men were expected to be authoritarian bread-winners. Websites like The Art of Manliness provide tongue-in-cheek guidance for the modern man, while NPR’s recent Men In America series takes a more serious approach, exploring what it means to be a man in America today. But these are hardly clear models for the 21st century father. The one who is now expected to balance a tightrope of manliness and tenderness. And that’s because we’re the model. Or will be, anyway. What we do now and how we choose to raise our children will in many ways shape the image of this new dynamic, modern man and father. This thing we’re all figuring out together. It’s intimidating, yes. But exciting, too.

Of course, like Sway, I ain’t got the answers. No one does. But I feel we should do what anyone would when suddenly confronted with an enormous, seemingly impossible responsibility. You do what you can. Do what you can and make sure as hell you’re trying your best. Be there. Be supportive. Be strong. Show emotion. Ask questions. Admit fault. Discipline. Lead. Do the dishes. Say I love you. Be there. Be there. Be there.

I realize how unmanly these proclamations are. I mean, could you imagine Don Draper saying these things? Of course not. But Don Draper is a drunk and a shitty father. All that narcissism and detachment makes him unattainable and therefore desirable, but he’s no model for men in the 21st century (aside from his wardrobe). I want to be a father that looks like Draper but has the compassion of Phil Dunphy. And perhaps one day we can live in a world in which sentiment is as manly as a stoicism. Where changing diapers is as masculine as changing a tire. Because that’s the world I want to raise my child in.

Phil Dunphy father



3 thoughts on “Man-Up: The Evolving Role of the Modern Father

  1. Wonderful post. I recently became a father to a beautiful little girl and I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the nappy changing and getting involved in all aspects thus far. I agree with you – times are changing and more and more men are developing more skills as a ‘hands-on’ father. Long may it continue.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s