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How the Father & Child Trust Was Created

By Harald Breiding-Buss

It all began nearly four years ago with something like a blind date. My wife pointed my attention to an ad in the notorious “Look Who’s Talking” section of the “Christchurch Star” where a househusband was looking for others.

Despite the fact that the other advertisers were mainly hunting for some “discreet fun” I made contact and we arranged to meet at my place.

For me this meeting spelled the end of my isolation as a father. With the help of the community newspapers Mike and I found more men and a playgroup was established that is running to the present day. This playgroup eventually provided the seed to start the Father & Child Trust.

1996 Census figures tell us that in about 10% of families where one parent is not working, this is dad.

The US Census bureau has tried to estimate from similar figures the number of pre-school children that are looked after mainly by dad (including fathers working night shifts etc.) and arrived at 15-20%.

If I look around, I find that here in New Zealand, too, the world is full of involved fathers – in and out of work.

But the isolation of many, if not most, full-time dads shows that there is no place where networks of fathers are started or where they can expect to be treated as parents, not as babysitters while mum is busy otherwise.

The situation of many single fathers is of particular concern. The courts do not normally give custody to a man. Instead many single fathers I have met have acquired custody from abusive or mentally unfit mothers under the most difficult circumstances.

Single fathers are most in need of our health and social service system opening up to men.

But all fathers are affected in one way or another by the lack of support for their role. Non-custodial fathers, for instance, are single parents too for a few days each week, fortnight or month.

Just like the mothers they can’t walk away from the children if things go rough and there is no partner who could be called home from work if the mood hits rock bottom.

There is a need for an organisation that adresses fathers’ concerns in a positive, down-to-earth way.

The ignorance many fathers encounter in parenting organisations does not normally stem from spite or rejection of men. It is built into a system that has been a women-only affair for decades.

Society has changed tremendously over the last 30 years, and involved fathering has become more the norm than the exception. But without male staff or input these organisations seem unable to change.

They still operate on the assumption that all the work is done by the mother and that she is the only person the child wants and needs.

They have not only been unable to attract fathers to their services and they are losing an increasing number of working mothers on the way as well.

Maybe the Trust can help transform some of these organisations so that they start seeing parenting as a team approach of men and women and open up their services to both parents. I would also like to see the Trust helping schools and pre-schools to involve fathers.

There are many, many more tasks the Trust can and should pick up on. I believe if we can make involved fathers visible and their needs known, the necessary changes in society, politics and justice will follow.
And some changes are needed.

A child that asks for an ice cream in a pre-school will probably be told that mum will maybe buy him one on the way home. Health professionals calling a family will almost always ask for the mother if a man answers the phone.

In the vast majority of books for children, fathers do not feature at all. Where they do, they do housework before they go to work or when they come back instead of playing with the children.

Images where fathering is portrayed as a normal, everyday occurrence are rare and because they are too many people believe the relationship between father and child is meaningless.

It would be naive to believe all this has no impact on the way our children see their mother and father or how the father feels about himself.

After a group of six men got together the Trust was established in a record-breaking two weeks. From the beginning fathers in different situations were involved and the present Board of Trustees consists of working and at-home fathers, married fathers and fathers with varying degrees of custody.

This will allow us to keep our eye on the big picture while at the same time working on the things that the fathers each one of us represents concern.

Inevitably these men have become my friends and their children the friends of my children. Watching Mike’s nearly 7 years old son Dominic and my 4 year old daughter Linda play together, who have known each other for as long as they can remember, made me remember what fathers are all about.

They played for an incredible 8 hours without interruption and without one single incidence of disputes or tears.

The way they played was a truly beautiful scene: they spend a long time pretending to be mum and dad, with a couple of soft toys filling in as child and pet.

Dominic was cooking dinner, and they sorted out such benign things as who takes which car to work. But at the same time they knew very well that as boys and girls they are not the same.

Linda likes to play with dolls and wears dresses, although on this occasion she didn’t mind making the goalkeeper for a soccer game with Dominic.

He, on the other hand, is boisterous and has a keen interest in spaceships. And yet they moved comfortably between their worlds, acting out their role models together, unmarred by the stereotypes society has imprinted on our generation.

Their play was a reflection of the world we would like to live in – parenting as a partnership, where things are decided based on need, not on sex, but where we keep our identity as men and women.

Let’s start building this world together.

Next: Focus Group Meetings Held

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