The authoritative figure of the father is a symbol of the past. Today’s fathers know their children so well they’re even willing to learn from them.
By Teresa Angel and Luz Amparo Salazar, psychologists and counselors.
There’s an old saying that goes “love your mother, cause you will never get another”. But what about the father? What is his role in a child’s upbringing? His absence can be determining and can significantly scar a child’s life, and yet this is a topic that is rarely talked about.
We should begin by saying that the role of the father has changed over the past couple of decades. The figure of the grumpy father, who was nothing other than the breadwinner, a distant and cold figure that saw kisses or hugs as a sign of weakness or lack of masculinity is now a figure of the past.
After the Women’s Liberation Movement, which is still an ongoing process in our country, the patriarchal and sexist society, in which the father went to work to ensure his family’s sustenance and the mother stayed at home taking care of the children and doing all the housework, was ruptured. Men started progressively partaking in some of those responsibilities, which had been historically considered to be the role of the female. It became common to see men changing diapers, preparing baby bottles, cooking, sweeping, mopping, while women would go off to work, to put food on the family table.
According to psychologist Teresa Angel, new family structures where there can be two women and a child, or two men and a child have considerably transformed the father’s role as a protagonist figure of authority: “historically fathers were considered to be the main providers in a patriarchal and sexist culture. They were in charge; they set the rules, even for women. But now women can occupy professional positions where they take on managerial roles, where they have authority and are more propositive”.
We now have fathers who are emotionally committed to their children, who raise their children from an affectionate position, who want to be close with their children, as opposed to fathers in the past who believed that distance had to be kept so as to ensure the respect of their children, a respect that resembled fear more than anything else. The modern father talks to his children, understands them, does not impose rules, but rather converses with his children in order to elucidate issues and find different paths to solve, for example, problems in adolescence.
“Fathers are currently closer to their children, they’re more committed. In a way they end up being chastised –when it comes to the good ones- when couples separate, because most of the time women are given the priority; restrictions are imposed on fathers, and even on occasion children are used as a means to intimidate them”, says Angel.
With these new fathers, those who continue to behave according to the old model are in the eye of the storm. When a child sees another family with a committed, loving father, a father who is willing to talk and comprehend, they don’t understand why at home their father is abusive, neglecting, or why he just forgets to spend time with his children simply because he is immersed in his work.
“Fathers nowadays have the duty of affirming children, of supporting them through love and understanding. Any form of abandonment, for example in the case of workaholic fathers who go from one meeting to the next, who never look up from their cell phone because everything is so important, sends a horrible message to children. They are left with an emotional void that will probably never be filled”, said psychologist Luz Amparo Salazar.
In the case of divorce or separation, parents should try to make it as least traumatic as possible, they should avoid projecting a bad image for their children, given that later that image will be projected onto one of the parents. “Parents must understand that in the end children are stuck in the middle. Parents must do everything they can to make things easier for their children, to keep things cordial, to set aside the difficult emotions that are being processed by the adults, for the sake of the child”, declared Salazar.
Although there are a lot of these new fathers, who are so committed that the mothers pale in comparison, there is also the opposite, the other side of the coin. “Some families are damaged by violence and aggression. In those situations, women are also abused and their rights violated, leaving them with a psychological trauma that they will pass on their children. The result will be insecure children who are afraid of life, or who are susceptible of repeating the example of what their fathers did at home. There are still a lot of fathers who are not meeting their financial obligations, let alone their emotional obligations, who are not interested in participating in their children’s lives”.
Fathers who are committed to the upbringing of their children, who are willing to change diapers, prepare baby bottles, who aren’t afraid of cuddling or hugging or kissing, should be celebrated. Having said that, when problems arise in a couple the best thing to do is to find a solution to make the relationship work, whatever that solution may be, since the child will be stuck in between.
Law 755 of 2002, also known as Ley María gives fathers 8 days of paid leave for them to spend with their newborn child.