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Father’s Day Now and Then…

On the third Sunday in June in the United States, we celebrate Father’s Day. Like most things, the role of a father has changed over time.

Economics and culture had a lot to do with this. In the earliest human communities, men hunted and fished far away from their families, while the mothers and grandmothers foraged locally and looked after the children. Many war-like tribes discouraged father involvement with children. The growth of Christianity encouraged the role of “father” as a detached leader within the family. On the other hand, in rural areas men and women often worked side by side for long hours in the fields, and the idea of young children sleeping in a separate nursery was not common before the nineteenth century. After the industrial revolution, dads in urban areas worked long hours farther away from the home. Women often began to take over traditional “father” tasks. Long wars, including the two World Wars, resulted in fathers being away from the home for long periods of time.

In the 21st century, gender roles are changing rapidly. Increasingly both sexes are working at home allowing more time to be spent with children. The number of dads staying at home while the mom works outside is also rising. More dads are finding time to spend with family and children, while in later life increased mobility means more adult children are now moving far away from their parents. A globally connected world will mean change among roles in all cultures.

History is full of good and bad dads. Charlemagne, who was crowned first ruler of the Holy Roman Empire by the Pope in 800 A.D., is often called “Father of Europe.” In private life, Charlemagne was easy-going. His son Pepin became known as Pepin the Hunchback, because he suffered from a spinal defect. Charlemagne loved and favored Pepin, but when it came time to choose a successor passed over him. Pepin conspired to kill his father, mother and siblings. When Charlemagne uncovered the plot, he showed his mercy by banishing Pepin to a monastery instead of executing him for treason. Charlemagne also doted on his daughters and their children by bequeathing them convents so they could live out the rest of their lives peacefully.

 
 

Teddy Roosevelt credits much of his success to his father, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. Teddy calls his dad, “the best man I ever knew.” Roosevelt says, “He combined strength and courage with greatness, tenderness and great usefulness. He could not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness or cowardice or untruthfulness. As we grew older, he made us understand that the same standard of clean living was demanded for the boys as for the girls; that what was wrong in a woman could not be right for a man.” Little wonder Teddy Roosevelt became one of our most productive and successful presidents.

To all those fulfilling a role of “dad,” we celebrate your achievements. HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

Barbara Ann Mojica
Author of the Little Miss HISTORY series:
Little Miss HISTORY Travels to MOUNT RUSHMORE
Little Miss HISTORY Travels to The STATUE of LIBERTY
Little Miss HISTORY Travels to SEQUOIA NATIONAL FOREST
Little Miss HISTORY Travels to FORD’S THEATER
Little Miss HISTORY Travels to INTREPID Sea, Air & Space Museum
Little Miss HISTORY Travels to ELLIS ISLAND
Little Miss HISTORY Travels to MOUNT VERNON
Little Miss HISTORY COLORING BOOK, Volume 1
The Adventures of Little Miss HISTORY, Volume 1

WWW.LittleMissHISTORY.com TO SEE MUCH MORE AND PURCHASE BOOKS

How Has the Role of Children Changed?

The role of children has changed dramatically over time. Children in the twenty-first century are treated as an important, if not central, part of the family unit. That was not always the case!

Circumstance and environment had a lot to do with how children grew up. In the Middle Ages up to one-quarter of infants died before the age of one, mostly due to accidents and diseases. The poorer the family, the less likely medical attention was available. On the other hand, healthy infants were seen as a special gift from God; they were usually named after saints or biblical characters. Babies were often swaddled, which involved strips of linen wrapped around their arms and legs. Parents did this so the limbs would grow straight. The practice had the added benefit of keeping the child out of trouble. Once the child was able to sit up independently, the wrappings would be removed. The mother remained the primary caretaker who fed the baby. If the mother should die, a nurse would be found to feed the baby. Richer families could employ a nurse to provide affection, bathe, sing lullabies, console, and take care of the baby when sick. Some nurses even chewed the meat for the baby before feeding, much like a mother bird. The wealthiest families kept a nurse through early childhood because these women spent much of their time at society events like banquets and court affairs.

A glance at art and literature of the period reveals few references to children. It indicates the prevalent attitude toward children. In general, childhood was simply a period of immaturity when a person was not productive enough to do much useful work. When, and if, a child reached adolescence, he might become an asset. The poorer the family, the more work the children performed. Chores might include feeding the livestock and animals, washing dishes, and caring for younger siblings. There was little time for play. Toys were handmade dolls, blocks or tops. Older children told myths and stories learned from their elders; some of these might include heroes like Robin Hood. The younger children played dress up, perhaps becoming princesses or lord of the castle.

Little formal education was available. Most parents taught their children by word of mouth. Those who had money brought their children to clergy members who could teach the child to read and write in Latin and their native language. Until the end of the eleventh century, clergy were the educators. Later on as the universities sprang up, wealthier male children might have a lay tutor to teach law or the administrative professions. Boys who were interested in learning a trade would be apprenticed with a trade master like a mason or a blacksmith in the profession. Few women were formally educated.

Life for children remained pretty much the same until the twentieth century when technological and medical advances freed the adults from many of the limitations imposed on the family. As societies began to protect the rights of individuals, children began to be seen as important to the future of the family and society and assumed a dignity in their own right.