I recently saw a review of the new Jackie Robinson bio-pic 42 that suggested American fathers still bond with their sons by playing baseball. My first thought: do fathers still do this on a large scale? Here is why I think this may be an outdated sentiment.
Baseball is no longer the most popular sport in the United States. Even with the large number of kids who play baseball or Little League, baseball’s peak has long passed with the NFL taking over the sports lead. The NFL released its 2013 schedule last week and ESPN was breathless for a while looking at the most tantalizing games that have yet to be played. Baseball is no longer the “all-American sport” and surely this must trickle down to the activities of kids and fathers. While it does have the same nostalgic pitch, what about playing catch with a football in the backyard? (This may be impacted today and in the future because of fears of concussions.) Moving in a different direction, as has the racial composition of baseball players, what about kicking around a soccer ball in the backyard?
Here is another possibility for how fathers and sons might now be interacting in the United States: by playing video games together. The generation who grew up with video games has reached adulthood and these video games habits don’t simply disappear. What if fathers and sons don’t play sports together as much as play Madden? What if they enjoy a good session of Call of Duty? This may not be happening on a large scale yet but I imagine this would grow in the future.
All that said, I want to see some data about how exactly fathers are bonding with their kids in 2013. Appeals to playing catch in the backyard might just be nostalgia for a bygone era.
It is a common complaint that television sitcoms make fathers out to be buffoons or at least incompetent parents. One PhD student in sociology looked at sitcoms from the 1950s to today to see how the fathers compare:
Miller found that while family structures in sitcoms has kept up with real social change — there are more single and divorced men in the recent sitcoms, for example — the men in both eras are more likely to be similar than different.
There is almost no difference in how often men express anger or emotional attachment. And men in the 1950s were almost as likely to say they were being victimized by someone else, such as their boss, as they do in the recent sitcoms.
Men in both sets of sitcoms also show almost equal amounts of self-deprecating behaviour…
Probably the greatest difference Miller noted is that men in the recent sitcoms make fewer imperative statements, are less likely to be respectful to others, and less likely to be respected by others. It might signal a decline in male authority, but it’s also a sign of all-around lower standards of decorum and politeness, she says.
Men in the recent sitcoms are also more likely to be immature. In Miller’s recent sample, there were about five times as many incidents of immaturity as in the 1950s series. But sitcom women have also become increasingly immature.
Perhaps the real story here is the consistency of television formats: the sitcoms of the past may not really be that different from the sitcoms of today even as the characters and situations have changed slightly.
Another possible takeaway is that television probably isn’t the best place to look for examples of good behavior. I assume most Americans would readily agree with this but considering the number of hours people watch plus the cultural power shows can have, television characters end up establishing certain behaviors.
A new study suggests there is a rise in the number of fathers who have children with multiple mothers:
More than a quarter of all U.S. mothers with more than one child had some of those kids with different men, according to a new study.
Among African-American women with several children, that figure rises to more than half; among Hispanics, it’s more than a third, and among whites it’s 22%.
Multiple partner fertility, as the phenomenon is called in academic circles, is a cause of concern among many sociologists, since studies have shown that growing up in a home in which different men cycle in and out is not good for a child’s health or well being. Think of these families as having domino dads, with each one’s departure putting pressure on the next.
The articles goes on to discuss some of the negative impact this might have on children. But more broadly, this hints at a way of life for many that is quite different from the image of the nuclear family or even single-parenthood: families where multiple fathers are in and out of the picture.