The Role of the Father in the Family

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People probably have different views and definitions of what constitutes a family. What an individual might consider part of his family might be different to someone else. A family can consist of individuals who have some connectivity whether by science in which genetics are at play, or by giving an individual, animal, or object attributes that will make them part of your family. It is difficult to have a concrete definition of what actually makes a family but it is clear that throughout time many aspects of the family have remained the same.

As society becomes more advanced and open the vision of the family has changed and will continue to do so in the future. The function and structure of the family has changed throughout centuries from conservative and interdependent into a more liberal and independent one. Throughout history the father was the main figure in the family responsible for the education of the children, wellness of the family and economic support. A family can be seen as an organization in which the father is the most important figure responsible for the wellness of the family. Throughout time the role of the father has diminished rapidly in the family.

Today it is not only the father that runs and makes decisions for the family; the role of the mother has expanded as she takes control over some of the responsibilities that the father used to have. There are many factors that explain why the role of he father has diminished in recent decades; why he is not as much involved in the functioning of the family as one before. According to Lynne M. Casper, the reason why the role of the father in the family has deceased over time is due to the “economic outgrowth and opportunities available to family members to be more independent”.

Throughout Unites States history we can see how the family evolved from a patriarchal system into a more communal system where the father and the mother of the house both share the responsibilities of how to maintain and support the family. The American history of the family begins with the arrival of the Puritans to the new world. The Puritan family was run under the leadership of the father, which was an essential part of the life of Puritans. Family life was very crucial as it was necessary to form and have a family nucleus in order to survive in the new world, where Puritans had nothing else but their families.

According to Christopher Dawson “patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the father is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children and property”. The father during this time was responsible for any decision-making in the household and delegated responsibilities to the other family members in the house. Puritans placed great emphasis and value of patriarchy that laws were actually created to punish sons and daughters that cursed, hit or disobeyed their father.

These punishments were so harsh that in some parts of New England death was a punishment alternative. The father had strong authority over his children’s lives. They got to decide what their child’s occupation was to be and whom they would marry. In other words, the father took decisions for the benefit of their children’s future. Fathers during this time looked at marriage as a business opportunity in which the father would pick the candidate with the most wealth and prosperity. Marriage based in love was not an alternative, as love was not seen as necessary to start a relationship with someone.

Things started to change, as children no longer needed their father’s inheritance to be independent. The family and values that Puritans wanted to maintain was vanishing, as there was not enough land to be divided to their children. Young adults started to move to other parts of the colony looking for land and opportunities that the father was not able to provide. As children no longer needed their father’s inheritance to move into adulthood the patriarchy system was vanishing slowly creating a new family system. The most drastic change in the family occurred during The American Revolution.

The patriarchal system that was brought to the colonies from England was vanishing, as people from the colonies thought that England was taking advantage of them. Just like in the colonies where young people did not need of their parent’s inheritance to be successful or happy, people in the colonies were taking the same approach towards England. According to Lorett Treese “a parent’s power over their children is limited and temporary and that young adults have the right for independence as soon they achieve maturity and or if their parents abuse their power”.

In other words just like a child the colonists had the right to be independent, as England was abusing it’s power by placing restrictions on colonial manufactures and taxes on colonial commerce. Through the American Revolution people were shifting ideas, values, and behavior and rejecting patriarchal rule. The majority of people that supported the independence were young kids and teenagers that were very passionate about becoming independent from England. The next change in the family that affected the role of the father occurred during the Industrial Revolution.

A new idea of individualism was emerging and people started to think, behave and act differently than their parents and grandparents. During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s family was changing drastically from the patriarchal system into a more emotional and united family system, it was the emergence of the companionate family. Fathers were not as controlling over their children and instead they were granting more freedom to their children. In the patriarchal system fathers were the head of the family and they got to decide who would marry his son or daughter.

Marriage was based on economy and opportunities; it was more about an arrangement than a union based on love. According to Steven Mintz and Susan Kellogg in the early 1900’s “young adults had more freedom to decide who they can marry without having his or her father impose the relationship”. During this time young people got into a relationship based on love, based on similarities and not based on their father’s thoughts. Relationships and marriages during this time became more emotional as partners and spouses showed more affection to one another.

Family and work was also separated during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as the father was now working in factories and earning money that could be spend on other goods. During this time home was seen as a sanctuary where the father could spend time with his family and get away from work, this is different from decades earlier where families had to work together in the farm to produce all the food necessary to survive. In other words the father was spending less time in the home than in the past. Even a greater change in the role of the father occurred during the Great Depression.

Families had to face financial struggles because the money earned by the father was not enough to support the family. It was due to financial troubles that everyone in the family including children had to work in order to help bring income in the home. The Great depression diminished the role of the father, as his income was insufficient in providing for his family. Families moved around in search of work having to adapt very often to new surroundings; this created turmoil within the family. According to Carrie A. Meyer “economic struggle is what destroyed the family, as money was essential to survive”.

Due to the economic struggle children and mothers had to work in order to earn some money that will help to sustain the needs of the family. Children as old as nine were put to work because they had to earn money to help sustain the family. Family during this time was changing very drastically from the old thoughts and beliefs that once governed the family. During industrialization women began to seek equality, children had more freedom and the role of the father changed from the traditional image of the old era. Industrialization opened the doors to women and young adults to be more independent as they were now able to work and be solvent.

Young adults during this time started to express their feelings and emotions without taking in consideration the authority of their parents. On many occasions children would approach their fathers in ways that were unacceptable before. The role of the father within the family also changed, as many of the roles fathers traditionally held were now shared with the mother. The father of the house during this time was only responsible for manly chores such as taking care of the car, fixing things around the house and supporting his family economically.

Being the head of the family, responsible for every decision regarding the family was no longer the responsibility of the father. During this time the male figure in the household was not needed as much as before as women were also playing an important role within the family by making decisions and working. The changing role of the father brought about changes including sharing the authority in the household that are a reflection of the changing attitudes and roles of society, the economy and politics.

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