It’s Father’s Day and the perfect time to ask what it means to be a modern father.

Our father

Looking back, we may see an uncomfortable truth: our fathers were largely absent, emotionally and physically.

They worked long hours and left the house and the task of parenting to their spouses. They were expected to provide and protect rather than nurture and bond.

They focused on doing, building and creating in the world of things, more than on feeling, relating and connecting to the people closest to them.

They showed tenderness and affection but sparingly and felt uncomfortable discussing their inner desires and doubts. Anger, however, was quick to overcome them. And others.

Perhaps you will recognise your own father in this. Or perhaps yours was an exception who was emotionally more developed. Most of us, however, had fathers who were distant and unavailable.

To their daughters this modeled the kind of men they might feel attracted to for the rest of their lives. And to their sons it modeled a rather two-dimensional, impoverished notion of fatherhood.

Today’s men

Now these sons are adult men and some have become fathers themselves. Consciously and subconsciously, they are applying the lessons their learnt to their own sons and daughters.

But the world is changing. Expectations of what it means to be a man in general and father in particular are evolving. Perhaps not equally in all parts of the world, but something is different.

The role and position of women in society is evolving, with women focusing more on their individual aspirations,  their needs, their education and their career.

And the role and position of men is slowly changing, too. Increasingly, men work less, take on more parenting responsibilities and are more encouraged to develop emotionally and spiritually.

Men are learning to express their feelings and relate with tenderness. They are developing their empathy, intuition, and ability to build relationships. They are learning to be open and vulnerable.

And they have an abundance of resources to avail from. They are men groups like Mankind Project and they are ample opportunities to receive coaching, therapy and other forms of personal development.

Men are learning

So slow, but surely, men are evolving beyond what their fathers modeled to them. They are complementing their traditional focus on doing and building with new skills in being and relating.

As a result, they are becoming fathers who are emotionally and physically more present and who model a fuller, three-dimensional idea of manhood and fatherhood to their sons and daughters.

The impact of this cannot be underestimated. It will create more resilient and harmonious relationships in which men and women have closer connections.

It will give children fuller parenting, which will turn them into healthier and happier adults, and, in time, more capable parents.

And in the workplace, it will enrich performance-oriented cultures with more compassion, empathy, and space for expressing feelings.

It will take a few more generations for this development to reach its peak. Fathers have a lot of catching up to do and there is much than men can and need to learn. But the tide is turning.

Happy Father’s Day.

Ilja van Roon

P.S. You may also be interested in reading this blog about the pain and challenge of absent fathers.