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10 September 2022
A broader perspective on fatherhood
Words Maris Depers
Father’s Day is a great once-a-year opportunity to mark the day in the spirit of honouring fathers and their importance in our lives. It can also be a time to look at being a dad through a wider lens to get a broader perspective on fatherhood.
Although Father’s Day is generally seen as a time of celebration, it can also be a difficult day because of issues that may at times plague dads and their families. We are still at a point, in the systemic way of society, that makes fathering difficult for many dads, with some men continuing to feel that their primary role is to be the breadwinner.
Being a dad is so much more than just working and financially taking care of the family. Fatherhood also includes the issue of gender equality and equity. Both parents benefit when nurturing and domestic loads are shared, and can lead more fulfilled and purposeful lives.
Over the past few decades, many dads have made significant changes. They do the washing up, change nappies, cook meals and clean, and help kids understand their emotions but the evidence says there’s still much more that dads can, and should, be doing. I became a father nine years ago and soon realised that nurturing and loving by both parents shows kids how to be emotionally aware, connected and kind – learning by example to have strong values and make good choices.
We are now seeing more programs for fathers, including dads’ groups in schools, and community-based initiatives. The goal is to normalise that dads should be involved and to continue progressing to a fairer distribution of parenting.
Emmy-award-winning cartoon character Bandit the Blue Healer, star of the hit ABC Kids TV show Bluey, may not be a perfect parent, but he represents playful, fun, caring dads who are involved in the social and emotional life of their kids each day.
Children are often collateral damage in ongoing issues with parents. Obviously, sharing their care will be complicated if parents are separated or divorced, and respecting each other’s choices will make a difference to children in a highly stressful situation.
If dads continue to care about their children’s emotional wellbeing, and if the kids come first, this will help them get through the very difficult times.
There is also an opportunity for grandparents, godparents, uncles, and the ‘uncle’ or elder in the community to be role models for children – the wider version of what it means to be a man.
For dads whose children are already grown up, Father’s Day may be where the rubber hits the road regarding accountability. If there have been problems, discussions can be used as a launching pad to try again.
We’re never too old to be accountable and try to make amends. If we’re brave enough to start this process, we need to have a sense of empathy and goodwill, apologising if we need to. Healing is hearing the impact of our actions on another, being able to wear that, finding ways to stay in contact, talking to our children about their inner worlds, and showing them we care.
In my work with the Salvos First Floor program in Wollongong (a holistic, community-based drug, alcohol and mental health service), focusing on equipping families to cope, make changes and live empowered in their journey, I’ve heard many stories from dads – and their children – about regrets. One of the saddest was about three brothers who said they never wanted for anything growing up, and they each left home with the gift of their own house, but they hardly ever saw their dad, as his priority was working and ‘providing’.
The days of the sole breadwinner are largely gone, and many families now have two incomes. This is a great opportunity for families to model to their children what to expect in this world. Working together to create the best future for our children has a powerful and life-changing impact.
We are learning more and more that play is one of the primary experiences where children learn so much, from maths to social and emotional regulation skills. When dads are willing to stop whatever they are doing to engage and play with a child, it sends the subconscious message that our children are important and worth the time and investment.
Teenagers also want to interact with their dads, and mutual interests are a great way to stay connected with them in a developmentally appropriate way. If dads can normalise this, everyone benefits.
There is a collective impetus to increase the involvement and resourcing of dads. Some organisations include playgroups for dads and camps for fathers and children, as well as educational blogs, websites and videos. Specific examples include the Fathering Project and the Raising Children Network.
Active dads will benefit everyone, and society will change. Many concerns that plague adults may come from experiences with violent, absent or disrespectful dads. Many issues that confront men may be directly related to negativity shown by their father, which can show up in less social connection, high reliance on drugs or alcohol, domestic violence and suicide.
Research shows that fathers who are active, involved and engaged in a wide range of activities with their kids, feel happier about themselves and have a better self-image. The more caring and emotionally involved dads are, the more everyone benefits.
For many fathers, parenting can be difficult, and kids don’t come with instruction manuals. Father’s Day is an opportunity for dads to grow and see themselves as loving, nurturing and involved fathers in every area of life, experiencing the joy, creativity and fulfilment of positive parenthood.
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Maris Depers is a case worker at The Salvation Army First Floor program in Wollongong, NSW.