Nurturing -A Manly Trait
Are Dads better, worse, the same or just different than mums? Harald Breiding-Buss of Christchurch muses on some of the diverse assumptions of todays fatherhood movement.
Things are happening. Father-friendly advertising is increasing and TV, radio and newspapers are running more and more stories on the issue. There is also an increasing number of books.
Not all of this information and promotion is necessarily positive; some of it can be rather patronising.
A poster with tips, for example, on how to be a good dad doesn’t make sense if there isn’t also a poster on how to be a good mum.
Good listening skills, fairness, playfulness, a nurturing attitude, spending quality time with your children – isn’t all this common sense parenting rather than something specific for dads? The assumption of such posters would appear to be that most dads (but not mums) need to be taught in such a blunt way.
As a father who has been there fulltime for his two children and has met lots of other men in similar situations, I can’t see all that much difference between the sexes in their parenting.
Put in the same situation men and women pretty much do the same things with their children. Indeed, research has consistently found that there are much greater parenting differences between different couples than between father and mother of the same family.
And yet many commentators seem to suggest that this is not how things should be. Manhood (and womanhood), they say, is someting from deep inside that needs to be brought out through a long process of learning and initiation.
A man who has not discovered this higher meaning of manhood, is, by that definition, not really a man and, by implication, not a good father.
So what about raising boys? There are an increasing number of people who believe that this can successfully only done by men.
As much as this thought appeals even to me – there is no evidence for this notion whatsoever.
There are boys who have been raised in almost complete isolation from other men throughout most of their childhood and developed into well adjusted adults.
They have not developed into retarded hermits or into rejection of society’s rules. Neither have girls who were raised almost exclusively by their fathers, by the way. The most important basic values of humanity can obviously be taught by both men and women.
But boys do need their fathers – and/or other men – in coming to grips with the sex-stereotyped expectations our culture imposes on them. These pressures only a man can understand, because he has been through it himself.
But this is only one aspect of life in New Zealand – not the whole story.
I believe we don’t need to try and find something that makes fathers’ contribution special or essential, to justify their involvement with children. Fathers are parents just like mothers.
They should have the same choices, the same rights. Unless someone can prove that high father involvement is not good for children, I don’t see why we need a discussion about father’s necessity.
There is no doubt about the benefits of involved fathering, but if this is attributable to a distinct parenting style of men, or to the fact that these children have two instead of one involved parent, is anyone’s guess.
Why establish another male-female antagonism if what we really want is a partnership. If in this partnership the father sees himself as a protector/coach type of father and the mother as the main provider of human warmth, then so be it, it is the couple’s free choice.
However, if these roles are negotiated differently in the partnership, why should anyone be concerned about this or tell the father he is not a “true” man? The paramount concern must be the children’s welfare – and there are no signs that they are in any danger from less stereotypical roles.
Unfortunately, the icons of today’s “men’s movement” promote a remarkably similar message to the sterotypes of the 1950s, which most of us men seem so relieved to finally be able to shake off.
Only some of the aspects have changed.
There is also clearly an epidemic of rugby stars in positive fatherhood promotions.
Good on these guys that they care about their kids! But does that mean that to be a worthwhile father you have to strive for a similar level of success? It seems to suggest the old notion that children need to be proud of their fathers’ achievements.
I’m sorry guys, but what you are in the big, wide world is without any significance at all for the quality of you as a father.
For this is one thing all the experts agree on, even those at the forefront of the men’s movement: it is your nurturing side that is beneficial to your children and that determines how they fare later in life.
Everything else is secondary, So if you are out of work, have never achieved anything significant in life, are a loser by most people’s standards, don’t use coarse language, ride a bike instead of driving a flash car and your favourite sip is tea from raspberry leaves, don’t worry.
If your kids know that you care about and understand them and you know how to feed, clean and respond to them, then you are not only a good father – you are also a good and complete man!
Next: Stand And Deliver