June 13, 2008 / 6:21 PM / 11 years ago

Dad's changing role recognized on Father's Day

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Life!) - Father’s Day conjures up images of the head of a traditional two-parent family being showered with golf clubs and power tools before being taken out for brunch by his adoring family.

A man fishes at sunset in the waters off Plum Island, Massachusetts, May 30, 2007. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Identikit fathers are married to their children’s mother, and are the main breadwinners. They are at work most of the time and have fewer domestic responsibilities than their wives.

But not all families fit the image.

Fathers are now much more likely to be single than they were a generation ago, and it’s no longer unusual for fathers to stay at home with the children while mothers go to work.

“Family roles are much more diverse than they’ve ever been,” said Peter Spokes, a spokesman for Fathers.com, a Kansas City-based nonprofit that promotes parenting skills for fathers.

“It’s no long enough just to be a provider,” Spokes said.

In 2006, there were 2.5 million single fathers living with their children, up from 400,000 in 1970, and comprising 19 percent of all single parents, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

About 42 percent of single fathers are divorced, 38 percent were never married and almost three-quarters had annual incomes of less than $50,000.

Among the fathers who are still married, an estimated 159,000 stay at home to look after 283,000 children while their wives go out to work. About 2.9 million preschoolers, or 25 percent of the total, are regularly cared for by their father during their mother’s working hours, according to federal figures.

CONVENTIONAL NOTIONS

If the realities of modern life undermine conventional notions of fatherhood, even the origins of Father’s Day are at odds with the archetype, since the celebration was first designed to honor a man who raised six children single-handed.

William Smart, a veteran of the American Civil War, was left alone with his six children on a farm in eastern Washington state when his wife died giving birth to the youngest. One of his daughters wanted to honor her father’s strength and selflessness in raising his family alone, and proposed the idea of Father’s Day in 1909.

The first U.S. Father’s Day was celebrated in Spokane, Washington the following year, and is now held on the third Sunday in June each year. Other countries including Canada, Britain, Japan and France also celebrate it on the same day.

John Morris, a divorced real estate investor in Kansas City, Mo., doesn’t expect to see or hear from his 17-year-old daughter on Father’s Day because the two have become estranged amid a dispute between Morris and his former wife over parenting styles.

So Morris said he expects his Father’s Day to go by “largely unnoticed” except for a few phone calls from fellow members of Fathers.com.

But for all the divergences between the realities and ideals of fatherhood, a few core principles of good fathering endure, said Morris. They are: modeling appropriate behavior; coaching — but not berating - your child in enriching ways to live, and above all, loving them.

“However worried you are about the child’s life, you should tell them that you love them,” he said.

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