Providers, protectors, patriarchs—these dad archetypes have set some of our expectations for fathers, but such a notion of fatherhood hasn’t kept up with the times. As we lurch toward a more just society, the role of fathers needs to fundamentally shift.
Lately, it seems like few of the dads who have supposedly exemplified fatherhood could rise to the moment we are in. Many of the fictional ones are deeply problematic: Atticus Finch turned out to be racist, and Cliff Huxtable turned out to be Bill Cosby.
So what should a father be, here and now? I imagine that if my toddler could understand the question, she would answer it fairly simply: My role is to make things OK.
That mostly seems to be about meeting immediate needs like conjuring a snack or making a frustrating puzzle piece fit. But as we zoom out, what does making things OK as parents actually look like, and how do we do it?
First, we have to reject what’s not working. The power structure in place—the White patriarchy—has benefitted many fathers, but it is actually standing in the way of things being OK for our children.
Patriarchy, due to the consolidation of power, means my family might be OK, but only insofar as I can protect them or provide for them. It actually doesn’t create a safe and thriving atmosphere for my wife or my daughter independent of me, nor anyone else. The outcome is not a civilized society. Unchecked, it starts to feel like a dystopian hellscape where violent White men hold on to resources and power for themselves and their own families, oblivious to the larger threat and fearful of change or progress. That never ends well.