The Post- Modern Man: On Masculinity, Fatherhood, and Work

Cedric L. Cooper



           Today there is widespread consensus among men from all backgrounds, cultures, and socio-economic statuses that men are ready and willing to take a more active role in the lives of their children.  Also, men today are resounding with one voice that the variables that make a man are no longer the same variables as their fathers swore by. 

Traditionally, men have been viewed as workaholics; they live by the masculine ethic, which was to work hard.  They knew that in order to get ahead in the world, or to move up the corporate ladder, they had to throw themselves into their work, sacrificing their family and their own personal lives. 

          As women move more and more into the work force, and with social change and economic shifts, men are rethinking everything about themselves.  There is this “new man”, a man who is no longer shuttered and sheltered by “male” ideologies.  This new man has never been seen before. 

Until now, he has had to live by standards and principles imposed him either by himself or by society. In his modern days, women and the media held the modern man in contempt.  Modern man for a long time carried the burden of “breadwinner” whether he wanted to or not.  Modern man could never seem to get fully in touch with his emotions, and therefore he hid them underneath his veal of toughness and rigidity. 

In the process of time, judgments were passed on modern man.  He was charged as being a dead-beat dad.  He was also accused as giving in to the pressure of carrying his family on his shoulders.  Modern man for the longest time could only sit there as the charges rang out, charges stemming from not cleaning the house to abandoning the house. 

The media, women, other men, and the government all had their chances of laying various charges against modern man.  However, just before the verdict came in, and right after the last charge rang out against modern man “men are not really needed in the home” man peeled off the clothes of modernity and put on his “post-modern” attire. 

Post-modern man is different.  The post-modern man is concerned more about how can he model before his family, in a new way, what it means to be a man.  The post-modern man longs to have more intimate relations with his children.  He is not simply talking about it- he is doing it.  For the post-modern man talk is cheap.  Being crippled and in some cases paralyzed with the negative effects his father had on him, post-modern man is fully in-touch with who he is and is not afraid to try more than way emotion or attitude. 

In this paper, I will explore the post-modern man.  First I will explore his post-modern masculinity.  My goal is to show that the post-modern man is no longer concerned with brute strength nor is he concerned with being the cool-headed, action-oriented protectors and problem solvers.  Instead, he aims to demonstrate that men are more concerned with being lovers, good husbands, and providing good fathering (Levant 1995, p. 176).  The post-modern man is learning that sensitivity and responsibility are the true marks of masculinity. 

Second, I spend considerable time exploring the variables that makes for good post-modern fatherhood.  I will highlight the fact that the post-modern man wants to do and is doing whatever it takes to be more involved in the childrearing process.  The post-modern man is tired of taking the back seat to mothers when it comes to childcare.  The post-modern man wants to make it clear that just because he does not care for the child in the same way the mother does, he is not wrong for doing it the way it works for him.

 Third, I will relate the post-modern man’s concept of work as it relates to his post-modern masculinity and his post-modern fatherhood.  The goal of this paper is to provide strong enough evidence that men deserve and should be viewed in another light.  My goal is to dispel the critics and their views about men.  I attempt to lie to rest the modern man and all of his flaws, and present to case that there is a new man on the horizon-- he is the post-modern man. 


Post Modern Man: On Masculinity

          Unlike any other time in history, men are ready to rethink and reshape their masculinity.  In modern times, men were taught to be tough, repress their feelings, and to never shed tears.  Living in those modern times men were often times required “act” like a man and to “manly” things like mow the lawn or shovel the snow, they had “think” like a man.  These and many other pressures were placed on the modern man.  Where did all this kind of thinking come from? 

In Men’s Lives, Kimmel and Messner provides a foundation for such thinking.  They believe that much of this thinking came about in childhood as boys played sports.  They assert that many of the men they studied said that they began to play sports because of another person in their family (male) played sports (Kimmel and Messner 1995).  Most boys wanted to be just like their other males in their family

The majority of boys say that they got into sports because their brother or uncle or even because their father played sports.  Although that may be the case, many young men who grow up in single mother homes played sports also.  Many times young boys are placed on teams where there is an overwhelming male presence.  No wonder why when boys grow up thinking they are superior.  This is due in large to the way we as adults socialize our boys.

Whether we want to believe it or not, we adults plant the seed of segregation and sexism in the mind of our children.  As we continue to segregate children, we will only continue to increase the idea of sexism and segregation in the mind of children.    “Young boys may initially find that sports gives them the opportunity to experience some kind of closeness with others, but the structure of sports and athletic careers often undermines the possibility of boys learning to transcend their fears of intimacy” (Kimmel and Messner 1995). What that means is that we teach our boys how to be so competitive while forfeiting the idea of intimacy.  In these sports, boys are taught to be competitors, minimizing what it means to be intimate.

As boys become men, these ideas and concepts of masculinity, i.e., being aggressive, overly competitive, and tough all carry over with into manhood and are then manifested in other parts of their lives.  The modern man has been trapped in this web of masculinity for many, many years.  The modern man has boxed himself in with only knowing how to be tough, a competitor.  However, the post-modern man is marching to a different beat.  He is willing to show his masculinity in different ways and in different aspects of his life.

When it comes to childcare, the post-modern man has profoundly redefined masculinity.  At one point in time, men were considered too macho and that it was not the manly thing to be active in the child rearing process.  That is not the case with the postmodern man; he is no longer timid and reserved in providing childcare. 

One change that is seen in childcare by the father is that he is not at a distance.  The post-modern man is in touch with his emotions and wants to be close, even intimate with his children.  In their article, Brandth and Evande explore the importance men place on being close with their children.  “Being a good father…means being a close person for your children, being genuinely concerned about your children and interested in following their development, giving them closeness and contact and showing them that your are fond of them (Brandth and Evande 1998).  This is what providing good childcare is about.  Masculinity does not shy away from this responsibility--it embraces it.  It meets the challenge and then overcomes any of the obstacles in its way.  One of the things that the postmodern man has overcome in terms masculinity is in the area of work.

The postmodern man believes in work.  However, it is no longer like the modern man’s concept of work where he throws all of himself into his work.  The postmodern man is different.  Work is a major basis of masculine identity for the postmodern man (Brandth and Evande 1998).   The modern man never knew, even in some cases refused to learn, how to balance work and family.  He was driven by the good provider norm.  Levant (1995) explains that the good provider “used to be that men could come home from a day at the steel mill…felling something akin to the hunter’s sense of manly pride and satisfaction in having really sweated and faced danger to provide for their families” (p. 175).  He believed that if he worked hard enough, his family would appreciate him and he would in turn feel like a “man”.

The modern man worked so hard trying to prove his masculinity in how much work he had to do in order to provide for his family, that he became a workaholic.  Levant (1995) explains, “It’s no wonder, then, that men invest themselves so deeply in work. Given all the satisfactions and rewards it provides it’s perfectly possible…for men genuinely to find work more enlivening than anything else” (pp. 184-185). 

The postmodern man fights hard every day to eliminate this type of behavior.  He has let go of the reins he placed on his wife to stay home and clean the house.  The postmodern man has seen the benefit of a dual earner family.  Things have changed for the postmodern man.  He is tired of the rat race.  He has relinquished the title of breadwinner and has adopted other means of assuring that the family is provided for so that he does not, essentially, have to kill himself in the process.  Not only has the postmodern man figured out that he does not have to kill himself working hard for his family, he has also found other meaningful way to express his masculinity.  There are sweeping changes in the way the postmodern man considers masculinity.  In a recent study conducted by Ronald Levant, he explores many of those traditional masculine norms only to find that men today are quite different from the modern man. 

When it comes to the avoidance of femininity, it used to be that men drew a hard line between masculine and feminine behavior.  However, the postmodern man has come to terms with and feels that is it important for him to get in touch with his feminine side.  Also, the postmodern man disagrees with the notion that a man should never cry in public, as where in modern times, men were to told to restrict the expression of emotions.  In coming to terms with his feminine side, it has led to a greater appreciation for intimacy.

In terms of intimacy, the postmodern man no longer views his woman or women as sex objects, but he strives for more intimacy, sensitivity, and the idea that a man should love his sex partner.  The modern man was not seen as a man unless he achieved lots of things and had status.  Although that is still important to the postmodern man, achievement is not the only thing that matters and he is willing to share power more. 

The modern man was taught at an early age how to ‘stand on his own’.  The postmodern man understands that he can’t do everything on his own.  It is o.k. for him to ask for help.  Beginning in his youth, the modern man was always supposed to be strong and aggressive, eagerly wanting mommy to ‘feel my muscles’ (Levant 1995, p. 12). 

The postmodern man has boldly challenged the traditional masculine code, and he has done so successfully and with the approval of many women.  The postmodern man is still “masculine.”  What he has done is that he has allowed himself to express it other ways and in other styles.  Coming to terms with these various expressions of masculinity undoubtedly flies in the face of the modern man.  That is o.k.  I like to think that if you have been trying something for so long and has not produced the desired results, then one should change his/her approach.  That is exactly what the postmodern man has done.  He has found the courage to journey into uncharted lands, and surprisingly he is gaining back much of the ground that he lost in modern times.

In no other area is this profound postmodern effect has taken place than in the family.  The postmodern man has found a way to incorporate his masculinity into his family life.  These two go hand in hand, feeding off of one another.  His ideas and philosophy has dramatically changed.  As I explore the postmodern man and the profound effect his masculinity has had on fatherhood. 

The Postmodern Man: On Fatherhood

          One of the most challenged and often scrutinized segments of society has been fatherhood.  It has been in the “frying pan” for some time now.  It has been peeled, pulled apart, dissected, and examined unmercifully by the media, women, and in some cases other men.  Why has fatherhood attracted so much attention?  The reason why I think it has received so much attention, either positive or negative, is that fatherhood is an honorable estate. 

          It is my assessment that people today are angry with fathers.  They are angry because some are behind on child support payments, will not take out the trash, and simply will not put in the time to help raise their children.  What I do believe is true is people are reluctant and in some cases unwilling to recognize that fatherhood, postmodern fatherhood, is the one key element in reclaiming our families, neighborhoods, and the honor of our children.  Most men would say that they do not need a father or have made it on their own without the help of a father.  On the contrary, I think if given the opportunity, deep down within, they would want to have some relations with their father. 

          Fatherhood is honorable, attractive, and deserving of respect.  The modern man, however, has tainted that image of fatherhood.  He allowed the modern masculine code to dominate his thinking.  In Fatherhood, Marsiglio writes, “Although negative images of fathers are not new to the cultural landscape, they may have become more prominent in recent years partly because of greater media exposure” (Marsiglio 1995, pp. 3-4).  The media has portrayed fathers as sex hungry infidels who do nothing but get women pregnant and leave them.  With the changes in the economy and the lack of job opportunities, father abandoned the home.  Hood writes, “With the increasing rates of out of wedlock childbirth and divorce, absent fathers are becoming numerous (Hood 1993, p. 27).  For a man to be a real man, a postmodern man, he cannot afford not to have stipulations and requirements placed upon him.  Without those requirements, there will be a steady increase of absentee fathers.

          The modern man, when it came to fatherhood, was viewed as problematic, meaning that he was “non-essential” in the home.  David Popenoe (1996) states, “In pre-modern times, the absence of father was considered a tragedy.  The father who left their children voluntarily left his children was considered unmistakably deviant” (Popenoe 1996, pp. 3-6).  The postmodern man views fatherhood in very different light. 

Studies have shown that fathers (the postmodern ones) are more involved in the rearing of the children than a generation ago (Woodworth, Belsky, Crnic 1996).  Women have been the focus of childcare for the past 4 decades.  They have been given the credit for nurturing, teaching, and feeding the children.  For whatever reason men have been shut out of the childcare research, the postmodern man is making a definite comeback.

          Studies have provided many variables that indicate why men are becoming more involved in childcare.  One variable is marital satisfaction.  According to Feldman, Nash, and Aschenbrenner (1996), fathers who experienced greater marital satisfaction were more involved with their young children.  The postmodern man is making all necessary attempts to create a happy marriage.  He is interested in the condition of his marriage, and if the mother helps in establishing happiness, then fathers will play a more intricate role in the childrearing process. 

          Another variable is social networks.  Studies show that “men with more extensive and satisfactory networks were more interested in their role as parent and spent more time with their toddler” (Riley 1990).  The postmodern man believes that if he has a good network of friends to hang out with, being responsible with his time, then he will spend more time with his children.  Everyone needs time away from the house.  If he has family he wants to spend time with, he should be able to do so.  The mother would not have to worry about him abandoning her, because the postmodern man is responsible.  Having a good family and good friends helps the postmodern man to become involved in childrearing.  Along with that, having a good stress-free job helps also.

          If the postmodern man can go to work and feel good about his job, and experience occupational satisfaction then, as studies suggest, he will spend more time with his children.  One study showed that “men with more challenging and intrinsically engaging jobs treated their children less harshly than men with less satisfying occupations” (Greenburg, O’Neil, Nagel (1994).  Being a father is stressful.  Men have tendencies to take out their frustration on their children.  However, the postmodern man releases that tension and aggression on his job.  If his job is stimulating enough and allows him to not get so stressed, he then has the energy to spend with his child and do so in a loving tender manner.  This is in contrast to the modern man, who works stressful jobs, bringing that stress home and taking it out on his family.  It only seems obvious that if he is happy on the job, then the chances of coming home, getting involved in household chores are great.

          In terms of housework, men who do more household chores are more involved in the lives of their children.  The postmodern man, thanks to the changes in the economic system, is spending more and more time in the home.  Mom has followed her dream of getting into the work force and Dad has not stopped her.  In fact, studies show that when it comes to child care, the more time the mother spends outside of the home (at work) the more time the father spends with his children (Aldous, Thoroddur, and Gail 1998).  These variables are causal for the postmodern man to feel good about himself and raises the chances of him being involved in childcare.  While these are more pronounced for the postmodern man, yet another must be considered

The dual earner family is another variable that is making considerable headway for the postmodern man.  Dual earner homes means both parties are bringing in an income to support the family, not just the husband.  Many women began to want to use the father as a means of saving money rather than putting it into childcare centers.  As dual earner families become the dominant structure for families with children…there has been an increase in the number of families who avoid the use of paid child care by substituting fathers for paid childcare providers (Glass 1998). 

Little did mothers know that fathers, especially the postmodern father, have wanted this opportunity for years.  Fathers have wanted to provide care for their children, but the mother has stifled them.  Mothers are often always around when fathers want to spend time with their child (Glass 1998).  The reason why this is a problem is because men have scrutinized for the way the care for children.  Just because fathers are a little more tough and rougher with children does not make them bad parents. 

The point has to be made clear that some fathers do provide haphazard childcare and are some cases reluctant to do at all.  However, that was the modern man.  The postmodern man is far more responsible and prepared to take on more childcare responsibilities. 

When the mother works, research shows that fathers are then able to carry out their child rearing responsibilities the way they know how to do it.  The economic squeeze has benefited the father more than it has hurt him (Glass 1998).  He enjoys staying home.  In some cases, the postmodern man says that he takes his child for long walks, goes fishing, and even spends quality time with his child.  I hypothesize that the level of a father’s involvement in childrearing is related to the mother’s employment status.   This is directly related to the amount of hours the mother works.  It is also clear that couples in which the wife worked full-time were more likely to share equally in the physical care of their child (Darling-Fisher and Tiedje 1990). 

What this evidence demonstrates is that the postmodern man is in full control of his masculinity, which has a direct causal effect on his fatherhood.  Although there are still many modern men around, the research indicates that men are stepping up to the plate and meeting the responsibility with eagerness.  With this said, I am compelled to argue against Stacey’s remarks when she said, “if there is a crisis, it is primarily a male family crisis” (Stacey 1996). Stacey clearly has failed to realize that men are not the same today as they were decades ago.  Crisis does not have to come from only male families, they come from female families also.   Stacey and the rest of society will have to open their eyes and see that there is a new masculinity, a new fatherhood, and a new way that men view their work, this new man is the post modern man.  He will no longer allow himself to viewed as a waste of time or a good for nothing; he is here and he is here to stay-so we need to accept it.  Men have made considerable strides towards changing the image that once plagued them.  Those changes have come not only in masculinity and fatherhood, but also in how men view work.

The Postmodern Man: On Work

          It is important to look at how the postmodern man views work.  The way that the postmodern man approaches fatherhood is directly linked to his concept of work.  They go hand in hand.  The postmodern man has found ways to incorporate in his time with his family.  He does not bury himself into his work, forgetting about his family. He now makes his family the number one priority.

Although work is a fundamental part of a man, it does not have to consume him.  In accordance with masculinity, work is a major basis of masculine identity (Brandth and Evande 1998).  The modern man was driven by the ethic of “breadwinner”.  From boyhood to adulthood he was told that this is what makes you who you are--how hard you work.  The postmodern man can deal with the fact that he does not have to work so hard, although there still some cases where that is not the case. 

In terms of childcare, the postmodern father finds satisfaction with taking off work to spend time with his family and to provide childcare.  The role of “provider” has become less important the postmodern man (Brandth and Evande 1998).  As stated earlier, the postmodern man is more concern with spending quality time with his children and working on becoming more sensitive towards his wife.  Therefore, the postmodern man finds work that provides him with a great deal of independence and has less stress so that he can provide proper childcare. 

Men developed such a rich identity with work because men grow up being prepared for “the real world”.  According to Levant (1995, pp. 176-177) we have been socialized to work and must learn all the manly skills and trades that come with being a man.  Why do men work? What pay-off does work give men?

Traditionally, men have believed so strongly in working because so much of their masculinity depended on it.  In modern times, a man is a man only if he could work his head off.  This is what identified a man. In addition, traditionally, men believed that they were to be the only provider for their family.  Many marriages went down the tubes and many men became workaholics based on this way of thinking.  Levant writes, “that’s when a man fells most in his element, when he’s working.  He is much less confident of his skills as a family man, because he never learned how to do relationships” (Levant 1995, p. 176).

The postmodern man has a very different character. The postmodern man is learning how to balance work and family.  According to Levant, “men are beginning to refuse job transfers and to make more use of paternity leave and flexible work schedules to spend more time with their family” (Levant 1995, pp. 187-188).  Even with the postmodern man being more assertive in this area, there are still many modern men who are thorn in the side for the postmodern man.  

The postmodern man has come a long way in terms of his new idea of work, but he still finds this area one of the most challenging.  As stated earlier in this section, he feels that the work is most challenging because of the way that he grew up.  Men are socialized to work.   With this knowledge, however, men must take better care of themselves when it comes to work.

Men have an ability to ignore signs of wear and tear on the body.  He does know when to say when and stop the work.  This is of serious concern for men.  Stress is a factor that plagues many men.  Levant (1995) believes that men need to face up to the fact of stress and do something about it.  He adds, “instead of paying attention to these symptoms, men ignore them and try to bull through.  However, a man cannot reduce stress by ignoring it” (p 190). 

Although the postmodern man still struggles in the area of work, he understands that being a good provider does not always mean in terms of dollars.  As I have discussed earlier, the postmodern man largely believes in more intimacy and being more of a nurturer.  With a better idea of work, he helps in providing good childcare and is prides himself on being a good husband. 

Many social organizations promote good fathering and are there to support men who are trying to do the right thing.  It is my position that we as a country must give men another chance.  No one, even men themselves, can over-look the damage that has been left by men.  It has been a long hard road for men to travel.   From king of the castle to being thrown out of his castle, men have seen and felt it all. 

This is not a prescription to heal the wounds caused by bad fathering or workaholic men or even overly masculine men.  However, it serves as a notice to the reconditioning and reshaping of men.  He is postmodern because he sees the mistakes he has made and is willing to correct them.  He is postmodern because he is no longer known by his muscle tone or deep voice.  He is postmodern because like a real man, he has taken a step back, has assessed his condition, and has found ways and means to improve his condition.

As a society, we owe the postmodern at least a chance to get back into the saddle again.  Let it be known the postmodern man is here.  He looks a lot different from the modern man.  Maybe that is part of the struggle.  Maybe we want the modern man to continue to exist so we have another social problem to chide and probe.  It is my attempt to promote the advances of the postmodern man and to become a beacon of hope and a voice for the speechless.

Much more research is needed, however, on the postmodern man.  If there are those out there who are bold enough to step out of the traditional way of thinking about men, and can appreciate the strides made by the postmodern man, then they should stand up and be heard.  We are different from our fathers.  We are different not in biology or physiology, but in ideology.  Our attitudes are different.  Our emotions are different.  Our character is different.  We are postmodern men.

Work Cited

Aldous, Joan; Bjarnason, Thoroddur; Mulligan, Gail M. 1998. “Fathering over time: What makes the difference.”  Journal of Marriage & the Family v60n4.

 Brandth, Berit; Evande, Elin. 1998. “Masculinity and Child Care: The Reconstruction of Fathering.” Sociological Review v46n2.

 Darling-Fisher, Cynthia S.; Tiedje, Linda Beth. 1990. “The Impact of Maternal Employment Characteristics on Fathers’ Participation in Child Care.” Family Relations v39n1.

 Feldman, S.S., Nash, S.C., and Aschenbrenner, S. 1983 “Antecedents of fathering.” Child Development, 54, 1628-1636.

 Glass, Jennifer. 1998. “Gender Liberation, Economic Squeeze, or Fear of strangers: Why Fathers Provide Infant Care In Dual-Earner Families.” Journal of Marriage & the Family v60n4.

 Greenberger, E., O’Neil, R., & Nagel, S.K. 1994. “Linking workplace and homeplace: Relations between the nature of adults’ work and their parenting behaviors.” Developmental Psychology, 30,990-1002.

 Hood, Jane C. Men Work, and Family. Newbury Park. Sage Publications. 1993.

 Kimmel, Michael S., Messner, Michael A. Men’s Lives. Needham Heights. A Simon and Schuster Company. 1995.

 Levant, Ronald F. Dr. Masculinity Reconstructed: Changing the Rules of Manhood at Work, in Relationships and in Family Life. New York: Penguin Group. 1995.

 Marsiglio, William. Fatherhood: Contemporary Theory, Research, and Social Policy. Thousand Oaks. Sage Publications. 1995.

 Popenoe, David. Life Without Father. New York. The Free Press. 1996.

 Riley, D. 1990. “Network influences on father involvement in childrearing.” Child Development

 Stacey, Judith. In the name of the Family. Boston. Beacon Press. 1996

Woodworth, Sharon; Belsky, Jay; Crnic, Keith. 1996. “The Determinants of Fathering During the Child’s Second and Third Years of Life. A Developmental Analysis.” Journal of Marriage & the Family v58n3.