“Life doesn’t come with an instruction book — That’s why we have fathers,” said H. Jackson Brown Jr. This genuine quote shortly describes everything about dads.
Today’s Australian fathers are believed to be more “hands on” and engaged with their children than the stereotypical absent breadwinner of generations past.
However, our research exploring Australian fatherhood between 1919 and 2019 has found that while men’s family roles have changed, deep-rooted societal and cultural forces keep them from being the kind of fathers many of them would like to be.
The breadwinner of the early 1900s
The “new man” of the late 20th century
The “modified breadwinner” family
The parenting paradox
Today’s Australian fathers face a striking paradox. They are expected to be more “hands-on dads”, yet there’s been little systemic change in their working lives (including access to, and uptake of, parental leave and flexible work). There’s also been little change to gendered roles in family arrangements: a situation that, admittedly, many fathers have been happy to roll with.
Most fathers are still working long hours and many are concerned about how little time they have to be engaged fathers. Today’s dads may not view breadwinning as their raison d'être, but the breadwinner model of Australian fatherhood is not yet “history”.