MODERN FAMILY As Fathers Become More Approachable, Is Respect Going Out The Window? BY CHERYL KANE HEIMLICH o you remember, as a kid, being just a little scared of your friends’ fathers? If your own dad was a quiet man, like mine, then the dads with the big personalities might have seemed a little intimidating. The reserved dads, on the other hand, might have made you nervous because you were never quite sure what they thought of you. And then there were the strict disciplinarians, the dads whose kids were always worried about getting punished.
When parents try to be friends with their kids, there does come that time—especially in adolescence—where it can go off track. Respect is a learned behavior and the parents play a central role in modeling it. – April Forella, licensed mental health counselor, Palm Beach Gardens
No matter how much time you spent playing at other peoples’ houses, and how well you got to know their mothers, brothers and sisters, the fathers somehow remained a bit of a mystery. Things are quite different for dads in the 21st century. My kids’ soccer games are coached by lawyers and CEOs who like to be called by their first names. My son’s little friends joke around with my husband as if he were a favorite uncle. My daughter is driven to dance class by dads in jeans and Nikes, doing business on their iPhones while they pick up groceries. When you consider how much has changed in the roles that fathers play today, it’s no wonder that our kids seem to view each others’ fathers less as remote authority figures and more 48
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as balding older brothers. My friend Caroline, for one, thinks the clothes have something to do with it. “My dad always wore a full suit and tie every single day when he went to work,” Caroline says. “It was kind of like a uniform that engendered a sense of respect and distance. My daughter certainly sees her friends’ fathers much more often than I ever did, but she rarely sees anyone’s dad in a full suit and tie.” Traditional menswear also reinforced the idea of dad as “the king of the house,” says my hus-
band Daniel, who rarely dresses that way himself. “When I was growing up, the dads left early in the morning, and you didn’t see them until they came home that night to the dinner that the mom made,” Daniel says. “But telecommuting has created accessibility, so the dads are around more in the everyday environment. And instead of having that aura of being the authoritarian to the kids and their friends, I think we’re just seen now as people around the house.” Vivian Grout, a licensed mental health counselor in Boca Raton, says relaxed business wear and