Over the last five years I’ve spoken to thousands of fathers and father-figures across the country and abroad, researched, written and made a documentary film about what it means to be a modern dad. It has become very clear to me, as a practitioner and a dad myself, that for most men, fatherhood today is as challenging as it is rewarding.

As women have moved into the workforce, many dads – some by choice, others by necessity – have begun to be more active at home. No longer able to rely on the traditional roles, ‘man the breadwinner/woman the caretaker,’ modern dads have an unprecedented opportunity to redefine a more involved and healthier version of fatherhood for generations to come.

Whether it means leaving work early to make a game or recital, staying up late with a sick child, talking through a relationship problem with a partner, or attending a parent-teacher conference at school, many modern dads are determined to show up for our families in ways that our own fathers could not or did not. However, we’re also just discovering what most mothers have known for years: doing it all isn’t easy. It’s especially difficult when you don’t have many role models to follow.

Modern fatherhood is all about embracing change, taking action and having vision. Women have traveled a great distance on the road leading from home to the world of work. They are not turning around. Now is the time for us as dads to ask more of ourselves. Being a father is not something you are, it’s something you do. By showing up for our children and partners, learning new skills, building support networks, and measuring success by the quality and health of our relationships, modern dads have begun the journey on the road that leads back home.

As Modern Dads we have a gift that most of our fathers did not. It is the gift of knowing what a tremendous difference we can make in our children’s lives. We see it in the research, we hear about it from the women in our lives, and we feel it in our hearts and bones: children need to feel close and connected, to feel at ‘home’ in their relationship with their father. They need a new kind of provider, a dad who not only supports them materially, but emotionally, physically and spiritually as well. This is a tall order indeed.

Realizing this vision and delivering for our children, families and the next generation of dads, requires stepping out of our fathers’ footsteps and onto this new road home. It connects our work life to our family life, our desire to achieve with our need to just be, and our head to our heart.

My own father (b. 1941) was not expected to walk this road. Home, literally and figuratively, was a woman’s domain. The so-called ‘feminine qualities,’ such as caretaking, emotionality and empathy, held little value in his world. This isn’t a matter of judgment, just simple fact. We now know that these human qualities – expression, emotionality, nurturance, etc. – are only enrich our family’s lives, but they also help us live longer. According to Dr. Eli Newberger, the messages boys and men get to ‘go-it-alone’ or ‘not ask for help’ are major contributing factors in why men die on average five years earlier than women. In contrast, men who have intimacy and connection in their lives are actually healthier than men who do not.

And for those dads that dismiss this all as ‘touchy-feely’ – which inevitably comes up when I do dad’s dinner or lecture – I make the following point crystal clear: a close, emotionally connected father-child relationship is a form of prevention and source of health and happiness for both child, father and the child’s mother. Renowned researcher John Gottman found that children with emotionally available dads do better in school, have better peer relationships, and relate better with teachers than children with more emotionally distant dads. Children with dads who are critical or dismissing of emotions are more likely to do poorly in school, fight more with friends and have poor health.

Having a vision for the quality of relationship you want with your children and family is just a starting point. In a recent parent lecture I gave, for example, one dad said he hoped twenty years from now his daughter would say, “my dad always helped me pursue my interests, he took time to listen carefully and pay attention to me.” What a wonderful vision, indeed. It is, however, a starting point. The critical questions are: what are we doing today and what do we need to change going forward in order to increase the likelihood of our children giving the responses we hope to hear (and not hear) in twenty years?

Modern fatherhood is about filling up your life with healthy practices - showing up for your children and partner, learning new skills, building support networks, and measuring success by the quality and health of your relationships.

The vision is clear and the road is before us. Now, we must each take responsibility for becoming the Modern Dads our children and families need us to be.

Based on the book The Modern Dad’s Dilemma ©2010 by John Badalament. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. Newworldlibrary.com

Author's Bio: 

JOHN BADALAMENT, EDM, is a Harvard-trained educator, leading expert on fatherhood, and the author of The Modern Dad’s Dilemma. He is also the director of the acclaimed PBS documentary All Men Are Sons: Exploring the Legacy of Fatherhood. His work has been featured in the New York Times and other publications. Visit him online at http://www.moderndads.net.