The History of Fatherhood in the United States

After yesterday’s post about Roman Krznaric’s essay on the history of the men as fathers, I decided to do a little research on my own; being a self-professed history nerd, I didn’t require much arm-twisting to do so either. Unlike Krznaric’s broader worldwide focus, I decided to hone in on just the progression of fatherhood in the United States, and what I discovered was surprising.

Most of us are familiar with the major events in history—the colonization of early America, the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, World War 2, and so on. What many of us may have not considered, however, was the part these events played in shaping the image and expectation we have of fathers today, which, when looked at through a lens of the past 300-plus years in its entirety, is slightly off in my opinion.

What’s more, when looking through that lens, keep in mind that many of the perceptions we’ve had of family dynamics throughout history are incorrect or only half-truths. For example, the idea of colonial fathers being an austere, unfeeling, authoritarian ordained by God isn’t entirely accurate. Did religious dogma dictate that the man was to be the head of the household? Yes, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t warm and unloving. We only see it as being so because such an arrangement seem archaic and stifling within the context of our contemporary society—a society that has morphed over three centuries at the hands of ever shifting socio-economic conditions and world-changing events beyond our control.

To get a true picture of this progression of fatherhood through time, there was no way I could fit everything into ten slides; thus the presentation is split into two parts (and even then it’s still probably not enough).

Slideshow 1: Fatherhood in the US: 1700's to 1900's

Slideshow 2: Fatherhood in the US: 1900's to Today

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