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What Does It Mean To Be a Father Now?

Social worker and consultant Jim Harris says what it means to be a father is changing, as jobs and society change. Photo By Dan Heyman.
Social worker and consultant Jim Harris says what it means to be a father is changing, as jobs and society change. Photo By Dan Heyman.
May 6, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As society and the economy change, what it means to be a father also is changing. But according to a clinical social worker who specializes in family issues, some parts of the job never change.

Jim Harris, owner of Opportunities Consulting Services, stated that fatherhood is becoming different with the decline of blue-collar jobs and with the rise of women in the workforce, along with the increase in the number of single-parent and blended families. He said the key parts of the role, providing for and protecting the family, are still there, but what they mean has changed.

"We're having to redefine what it means to be in a family and it's not easy," Harris remarked. "Being a father's difficult because it's so confusing. What are we now? Are we sensitive or are we tough? It's hard being a dad, but not being involved isn't an option."

He said fathers still have to, as he put it, "do the harder thing." But that may be psychologically and emotionally harder, not physically tougher.

He said physical strength and endurance are less important in the work force now, so fathers need to teach their children the emotional and interpersonal skills that can help them be mentally stronger and more flexible.

"Being a model of stability, consistency and care, to build them psychologically" is what's called for, he said. "Young people that can go into the world and be successful. And what that means is dad's have to be more in touch with their emotions than they were before."

He said that will often mean being more active in family life, and more aware of the messages they are sending, even unconsciously. For instance, he remarked, many parents use the same kinds of punishments that were used on them, without questioning. He said it's important to remember that you are setting an example.

"Be what you want your kids to become," Harris advised. "If you want your kids to be patient, be patient. If you want your kids to be kind, be kind. If you want your kids to be hardworking, they have to see you work hard."

Harris spoke at the National Association of Social Workers' West Virginia annual conference last week, the largest conference of its kind in the country.

Harris can be reached at

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV