Here’s an interesting question for fathers to ask themselves — are you a masculine father or a feminine father?
If we asked a typical 1950s dad this question the answer would have be more obvious. In an era when most parents operated on the man-work-women-cook model of family life, mums did feminine mum things and dad did masculine dad things.
In the intervening decades the roles of mums and dads have diversified somewhat and become more blurred — mums can win bread and raise children while dads can share the housework with the paid work.
If you’re a modern dad there’s a good chance that you’ll be doing some combination of what used to be considered men’s work and women’s work. So does that make you masculine dad or feminine dad?
Are you a systemizer or an empathizer?
One to find out is to examine your parenting style. Are you more of a typically male systematic father or a typically female empathetic dad?
The systematic approach is more masculine and at its most positive it is a style of parenting that brings order and structure into a child’s life. The negative side of the masculine approach to fathering is that it can become critical or controlling when order and structure is challenged. Is this tendency to control or criticize your children a trait you recognize in yourself?
The empathetic approach is more feminine and at its best it is nurturing and loving but at its worst it can mean spoiling the child and pandering to its tantrums and bad behaviour. Does this sound a bit like you with your children?
If you’re still not sure if you tend more towards masculine or feminine parenting styles then try observing how your children respond to you. A nurturing, positive feminine parent will tend to have children who are free and spontaneous. By contrast a spoiling feminine parent will have an unruly, immature child.
If you’re a masculine, structuring parent you may find your child is co-operative whereas if you have a masculine approach that tips over into being critical and controlling then you generally find your children respond by being resistant or resentfully compliant.
Are you a bit of both?
As men and women can embody both masculine and feminine qualities, it is possible for a dad to be both structured and nurturing (or critical and spoiling even). In fact, it’s not unusual for modern dads to see themselves in all of these descriptions.
By becoming aware of these masculine qualities, in both their positive and negative manifestations, you can honour the qualities you already have and work on developing the areas where there is room for improvement.
Maybe you bring great systemic thinking and order to your parenting, but struggle to respond to the emotional needs of your children? If so then becoming mindful of developing your empathy and your nurturing side, could be a positive way forward for you.
Maybe your nurturing and empathetic side is already well developed, but you struggle to create order and structure for your children? If so then becoming mindful of developing your masculine, systemic side could help you become an even better dad.
How to be an even better dad
So now you’ve had time to consider your parenting style, would you describe yourself as a masculine dad or a feminine father? Or are you a combination of both?
If you want to develop your masculine side you could try a sport, game or activity with your child that requires you to provide the structure and the rules. If it’s your nurturing, feminine side that needs developing, try a creative activity like role play or crafts where you child can express themselves freely and have periods of leading the activity if they want to.
One simple way to remember the difference between masculine and feminine fathering is to consider the difference between masculine play fighting, where you lay down the rules and make sure they are followed—and feminine play acting where you create the rules together by tuning in and responding to each other’s needs.
Remember, developing a new side of your character can be like exercising a muscle you’ve never used before—it may not be easy at first, it may even hurt a little but the rewards can be magnificent so why not give your children an unexpected treat and let them experience a more masculine or more feminine side of your character today?
Written by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men
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