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How Modern Fathers Are Approaching Fatherhood

The following was produced working with our friends at TD Ameritrade, who for 40 years have provided retirement resources, trading tools, and more to help parents pursue their financial goals while giving them more time to focus on what really matters in life.  

Fathers have long identified with the iconic song “Cat’s in the Cradle,” as the struggle to balance work and family life has always been a real one. Yet since the song’s debut in 1974, much has changed. That’s why TD Ameritrade recently worked to revisit this classic in a short that celebrates dads and all they do for their families.

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Stay-At-Home Parenting

This reimagining of Harry Chapin’s song comes as American fathers are aggressively reimagining their roles in their children’s lives. Dads are working hard to find more time for family, and they’re succeeding by acknowledging that work/life balance isn’t about holding two distinct equal weights. It’s more of a rounded approach, finding a balance and collectively being on the ball.

Involvement in Early Childhood

In the original version of the song, the singer-turned-dad laments about having to spend so much time keeping his career moving forward, at the expense of experiencing special moments with his son. That’s a bummer, but unfortunately a statistically average one. In 1977, fathers spent 1.8 hours per workday with their kids. By 2008, that number was hovering at 3 hours and climbing. These added hours now mean millions more games of catch, allowing dads to breathe a little easier and enjoy fatherhood.

Maybe it’s a sign of the times, or lessons learned from their fathers, but it’s not by accident that today’s fathers are actively striving to find more time to be present. According to one survey, 75 percent of younger fathers said that being a dad is their most important job and that 51 percent would quit their jobs to be stay-at-home dads if they could afford it.

Coming Home

Adults seem to spend most of their time in two places: the office and the home. But the ways in which they move between the two has changed drastically as office culture has become less rigid and parents have become better advocates for their personal time. This could be a byproduct of more women moving into the workplace. According to research conducted by University of Illinois sociologist Karen Z. Kramer, 63 percent of families with children have two parents who work at least 35 hours a week — up from 46 percent in the 70s.

The evolution of the “traditional” family has changed the ideals that every household is structured the same. In 1960, 50 percent of children in America lived in a house where dad went off to work and mom stayed home to take care of the house and family. In 2014, that number fell to just 14 percent.

The family dynamic is changing, and so is the world around it. Technology has made huge advancements since the 1960s and thanks to telecommuting, many of today’s dads don’t need to come home from work because many of them work from home–at least intermittently. This added flexibility means less time commuting and good things for dad and families.

The Struggle For Balance

As the wall between work and life evolves into a sort of amorphously permeable membrane, more fathers feel family time is important and are actively seeking ways to teach their kids to throw while still catching those flights and making those meetings. A recent BabyCenter study found 64 percent of millennial fathers said the so-called “perfect dad” “prioritizes family over self.” 

But that doesn’t mean they’re looking to sacrifice career goals. Another study out of Boston College saw 75 percent of dads say they wanted to spend more time with their kids and find a job with more responsibility. Yet, more than half of the fathers in that study claimed to already experience some degree of work vs. family conflict. No one said balancing it all is easy, but it seems dads are now recognizing the importance of maintaining this balance.

So yes, the world and fatherhood have changed a great deal since 1974. Still, the refrain will stay the same. Kids will grow up to be like their dads, which is increasingly something to celebrate–a reason to sing.


TD Ameritrade, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC