Michael Liccione has written an article about fatherhood. He notes that it's trendy these days to consider fathers to be "fungible," meaning that they aren't necessary within families but can be substituted or replaced.
But why is this view that fathers are fungible so fashionable? Michael Liccione rejects the idea that it's part of a grand conspiracy to destroy the family. Instead, he views it as being part of a larger trend, a "cultural force" within society. And this trend exists because,
... the core of modernity's ideology is the goal of radical autonomy.
On this view, human freedom is so absolute, so precious, that anything which limits our freedom to define ourselves is either a political or a cosmic injustice. It's almost as if we're bigots if we believe that there is such a thing as human nature and that it admits of only so much self-definition by individuals.
Nominalism has become not only respectable but morally obligatory. If that's how one sees human dignity, then anything that's important for who we are, but is nonetheless out of our control, is going to be either questioned, resisted, or changed...
That's very well put. Michael Liccione goes on to observe,
The authority of the father in the family is now equated with the "domination" and "oppression" of "patriarchy." I've never thought of 'patriarchy' as a dirty word, but Hell's Philological Arm has succeeded in making it so. As women slowly but steadily achieve economic parity with men, the very usefulness of husbands and fathers as such, as distinct from that of the interchangeable "spouse" and "parent," now seems obscure to the educated classes. A great many people still feel otherwise, but most cannot articulate why they should. And so the erosion of fatherhood proceeds apace because of a faulty conception of freedom that now dominates thought.
If we believe that fathers matter, then there is a limit to our "freedom" to live any which way, particularly as fathers are thought to wield authority within a family. The radical option is then to get rid of fathers from family life; the more moderate option is to hold them to be optional rather than necessary; and a third option is to quietly redefine fatherhood out of existence - to pretend that there is only a motherhood role which "involved" family men can now contribute to.
That's what happens when autonomy is made the core aim. An example of the radical option was put forward by feminist Sara Ruddick back in 1990. She thought that one option for the new family was to have the state support children so that women could raise their children largely by themselves, without needing the assistance of fathers:
Most mothers ... cannot afford to raise children alone. But in a state that provided for its children's basic needs, women could raise children together ...
Exceptional men who proved particularly responsible and responsive might be invited to contribute to maternal projects ...
... Secure in near-exclusively female enclaves that are governed by ideals of gender justice, women could undertake a politico-spiritual journey in which they ... overcame their dependence on fathers and fears of fatherlessness, and claimed for themselves personal autonomy.
The aim for Ruddick is for women to become independent of fathers in order to claim for themselves autonomy. She envisaged that this would be made possible if the state were to provide the financial support that children needed, allowing women to live separately from men.
Ruddick recognised, though, that most women still held to the "fantasy" of raising a child with a man. So she also put forward the option of keeping men around, but defining a distinct fatherhood role out of existence. There was to be only a motherhood role, which men might participate in:
Rather than attempting to free mothers from men, they (we) work to transform the institutions of fatherhood. Their (our) reasons are naive and familiar: many men ... prove themselves fully capable of responsible, responsive mothering ... Feminists cannot afford to distance themselves from the many heterosexually active women for whom heterosexual and birthing fantasies are intertwined and who want to share mothering with a sexual partner ... For all these familiar reasons, many feminists, and I among them, envision a world where many more men are more capable of participating fully in the responsibilities and pleasures of mothering.
To provide a contrast, I'll quote Stephanie Dowrick on fatherhood. She believes that fathers do matter and that there is a distinctly valuable paternal role:
...fathers matter. And, good or bad, the effects of their parenting will go on reverberating throughout their children's lifetime ...
....[parents] will also have roles that are specific and distinct. When two adults become parents for the first time, the new father may best support both the baby and his unfolding sense of himself as a father by giving most of his support to the new mother: meeting her needs so that she can meet the inexhaustible needs of her new baby.
This requires considerable selflessness. Yet it is being able to step up and play this essential role that will set the tone for fatherhood ahead and for his individual strength and confidence.
As children grow older, the role that fathers play changes fast. Even with both parents in the workforce, fathers still often "represent" the outside world and its values more powerfully than mothers do. How fathers interpret the outside world and bring it home to their children through discussions and especially through example sharply impacts on the way children see themselves in the social universe.
What Dad values and believes, where Dad gives his time, how Dad offers or withdraws his encouragement or interest, how Dad deals with disappointment or conflict, whether Dad is able to be consistent and reliable, when and how Dad "takes charge", the willingness with which Dad takes responsibility, and how loving Dad is to Mum: these are all factors that will have a huge impact on the psychological development of children.
But perhaps nothing matters more than for a man to recognise while he is in the thick of it just how important family life is to him, and he to it.
So there is a clear cut division here between the modernist view as set out by Ruddick (ditching a necessary fatherhood to enhance personal autonomy) and a traditionalist view as expressed by Dowrick (fatherhood matters and is not fungible).