The power of dads

The roles of fathers have evolved over time

In the 1950s, a dad’s domain was the office, mom’s was the family. PROVIDENCE – We can know one thing for certain: the upcoming celebration of Father’s Day will be filled with greeting cards about golf and fishing. While you are enjoying your celebration, feel confident in the knowledge that fatherhood has a varied and changing history.

Historically, many cultures strictly divided parenting roles. Traditionally, fathers provided financial support and moral structure for their children and mothers offered emotional support and managed the day-to-day childrearing duties. Today, though, there seems to be more options for dads: Fathers may be single, partnered, stay-at-home or work outside the house, adoptive, biological or step.

The research community is catching up with 21st century realities.  A 2006 report through the United States Children’s Bureau (an agency of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department), “The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children,” speaks to the wide impact that fathers have in their children’s lives: “Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.” The research acknowledges that whether the “involved father” is a father figure – such as an uncle, grandfather or close family friend – or the biological male parent, his influence is still significant.

Healthy connections between fathers and children reveal positive outcomes in the research conducted, including in cognitive ability, educational achievement, psychological well-being and social behavior.  Go, dads!

The American Psychological Association further addresses the increased variety of ways that today’s fathers participate in their children’s lives. Twenty-first century fathers are nurturers, heavily involved in their children’s daily lives and emotionally and financially supportive.  The possibilities are expansive compared to the limited roles of fathers of the past.

This exploration is still new. For decades, the primary role of parenting fell to mothers whether or not fathers were involved.  As research on fathering began in the 1970s, we clearly still have room to grow and evolve.  In the meantime, enjoy your celebration with the special dads in your life.

Happy Father’s Day! 

ANDREA EPSTEIN, LICSW ( is a social worker with Kesher, the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island and funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.