In yesterday's Age, for instance, Stephanie Dowrick discussed the place of fathers within families and came up with this:
...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 sill 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.
This is an intelligent description of a father's role in the family, which runs counter to the general trend of writing about fatherhood for several reasons.
First, it views the father's role positively rather than negatively. A problem for men in a liberal society is that liberalism is set strongly against unchosen forms of authority (which is why the authority of kings and priests was targeted early on). Fatherhood fell within the category of unchosen forms of authority and so was often portrayed negatively in terms of repressiveness or domination.
Second, Stephanie Dowrick accepts a distinct, masculine role for fathers. The liberal view has been that gender is an oppressive social construct which should be made not to matter; therefore, much writing on the family has promoted the idea of "genderless" parenting (in which the motherhood role becomes the single unisex parental role) or of gender role reversal.
(I remember a Nescafe ad which ran on Australian TV in 1999 which had the jingle: "You can be mother when you are a man ... Open your mind you know that you can.")
We'll have to see how far the shift back to a more traditional view of gender goes, but it's a refreshing thing for the moment to find fatherhood portrayed positively as a distinct role.