Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fatherhood can be a thankless job

My comments left on the Ottawa Citizen site.


Its good to see two articles related to Fatherhood so close together. We are indeed a marginalized species, especially white Anglo-Saxons who we see as buffoons on TV, in ads and at the movies. Those of us who are blind sided by family law as practiced by feminized judges know full well how important we are considered in the world of gender politics. We have wallets and are used as ATM's while perhaps seeing our children , if we don't have a vindictive ex, 4 days a month.

Dads who have not run through the humiliation of family law (FLAW) don't yet know what is in store for them. Fathers are the bedrock of our civilization. The social problems, including the single largest source of child poverty, created by judges giving sole custody to moms in a 9-1 ratio, are pretty evident and study after study shows children with two parents in their lives do much better. A presumption of shared and equal parenting is needed on family breakdown to keep dads in their children's lives.

Thank you for your good work at McGill and your hands on involvement in showing Canadians that we men and fathers are important in more respects than sperm donors and wallets. I wanted to add that I love my children unconditionally but the manner in which a father demonstrates this is fundamentally different than a woman most of the time but not always.MJM

Last Fathers' Day, U.S. President Barack Obama, so eloquent on most occasions, chose not to celebrate good fathers but to rant about "deadbeat dads." David Warren hasn't repeated that mistake. His Saturday column, "In praise of patriarchs" is excellent (and not only because of his reference to the books that I have written with Katherine Young). In the hope his article will jump-start a public discussion of fatherhood, I offer the following comments.

My father, who died two years ago, had a difficult but close and even intense relationship with me. From my perspective as a boy and young man, he seemed overly judgmental. I grew up thinking that I could never make the grade, never be good enough to satisfy his lofty expectations. And his standard for honourable manhood, which he applied to himself no less than to me, did seem unattainable. Worse, it seemed to me, his notion of manhood focused heavily on duty and sacrifice -- not things that most people, certainly not children, are eager to embrace. Worse still, perhaps, he expected me to learn skills that didn't interest me.

Dad played with me and took me to museums, sure, but he also tried to help me with my arithmetic homework -- and was visibly exasperated, night after night, by my inability to understand what he considered common sense.

To be blunt, I usually preferred my mother, who gave me uncomplicated and unconditional love. Dad confessed, many years later, that I had disappointed him at first. And I can see why.

I was an outsider for several reasons in childhood. Apart from anything else, I was both unwilling and unable to absorb prevalent but superficial (and ultimately both destructive and self-destructive) notions of masculinity. I had to invent myself, therefore, and I'm proud of my ability to do so. But it was Dad who first taught me to be independent -- that is, as I eventually understood, to think for myself but within a larger moral context. He taught me to become more fully human, in other words, not to embrace either conformity or "autonomy" (an overused and misused word these days).

Dad lived long enough to see me take my place in the world. I knew that he respected me as a scholar. One day, in the middle of some argument, he suddenly turned to me and said, "Paul, you're a learned man." Okay, I was much too old by then for those words to give me a sense of self-confidence. But we both realized immediately that this was a moment of profound fulfillment; a father had symbolically conferred manhood on his son. I never did learn arithmetic, but I had made him proud of me in other ways. This was my secular bar mitzvah.

Dad still blamed himself, however, for not pushing me hard enough to become more financially secure. Fortunately, we had time to talk about that. Having spent many years doing research in the humanities on manhood (including fatherhood), I told him that he had done exactly what every father needs to do. I didn't have to add that he had done so not by consciously adopting the approach of this or that expert but by subconsciously absorbing the legacy of human experience after countless generations.

Fathers, unlike mothers, must require their children to earn love -- respect, which is a form of love -- in order to leave home mature enough to give and receive it as adults. And fathers, unlike mothers, cannot measure their effectiveness adequately in terms of immediate emotional gratification. Spontaneous displays of affection from their children do not necessarily mean, after all, that fathers are doing what's best for them.

Young children know very little, in any case, about what their fathers do for them behind the scenes. Moreover, they often resent having to meet expectations or endure constant testing. As for fathers themselves, they find it hard to feel unconditional love for their children without always revealing it directly for fear of sending a double message: "I love you no matter what you do or don't do" versus "I love you for being worthy of love."

In short, fathering is inherently more complicated, more ambiguous, and more perilous (though not, of course, more important) than mothering. It requires a massive cultural effort to promote fathering and not merely to bribe or threaten fathers into providing material resources.

I'm dismayed, therefore, to find that our society seems hell-bent on undermining the culture of fatherhood (or whatever remains of that culture). My research with Katherine Young indicates that every person and every group, to have a healthy identity, must be able to make at least one contribution to society that is distinctive, necessary, and publicly valued. Now that women can take over two of the three historic functions of men, provider and protector (if necessary with the state's help), only progenitor remains. And to be a progenitor in any meaningful sense is to care for children in the ways that I've outlined here, not merely to contribute a teaspoonful of sperm or even a monthly cheque. Boys must know that society will indeed need them to make at least this one contribution.

For the time being, they don't. At best, in this age of Oprah Winfrey and sperm banks, the message is that fathers are assistant mothers and therefore luxuries. Boys now learn directly or indirectly, that there will be no room for them as men in family life and that they will therefore have no moral stake as men in the future of society. If that isn't an ominous sign, what is?

And yet, even now, most men do care for their children. Congratulations, then, to all the confused and beleaguered fathers out there for continuing to do what is often a thankless job.

Paul Nathanson is a research associate at McGill University's Faculty of Religious Studies and co-author of the books Spreading Misandry and Legalizing Misandry.

The Changing Role of Father: Involved Dads and Their Positive Impact on Education

The One Thing You Need To Know

Fathers make an impact in all facets of their children's lives - including academic success.

Inthe 21st century, the role of ‘father’ has changed. It’s safe to saythat most people do not expect fathers to take on the role of solebreadwinner, primary disciplinarian or take a backseat to mothers whenit comes to raising children. As this outdated thinking about the roleof the father dissipates, dads who are truly involved in theirchildren’s lives are making a significant difference in many areas –including the realm of education.

The Canadian Father Involvement Initiative(CFII) is a non-profit organization based in Carleton Place, Ontario.CFII defines an “involved father” as: “…a father who knows and enjoyshis kids, one who shares with his partner the work and the play ofraising them, one who understands them well and can handle their dailyroutines. We mean a man who has his own direct, close relationship withhis children.”
In the 2001 census there were 4.2 million fathersin Canada. How do these modern-day dads parent their children? “I thinkfathers parent differently than mothers…but it’s just as important,”says Glenn Sacks, a journalist and the executive director of Fathers and Families – an advocacy and research organization. Sacks adds, “….fathers who are around [these days] are more hands-on.”

Fathersneed to realize the important contribution that they make in everyfacet of their kids’ lives – sometimes the father’s role is dismissedas less important to the mother’s but this is simply not true.

Accordingto an Australian study entitled The Changing Role of Fathers conductedby Graeme Russell, “The ideas that fathers do not have the ability tocare for children and that it is not good for families to have fatherstake a major responsibility for care-giving are not supported by recentresearch findings.” The report also states that, “fathers inshared-care (two partner) families saw that they had improvedrelationships with their children.”

While paid work may get inthe way of full involvement, fathers can stay in touch with children inthe mornings, evenings or on weekends. Simple activities like playingcatch, going to the park, building Lego, shopping for groceriestogether, or singing songs can bring great joy to kids. Dads who havemore time or enjoy group activities may want to volunteer to coachtheir child’s t-ball team, volunteer on a school field trip or join a“dad and tot” program at their local library or community centre.
Involved Dads = Success in School
Whethertoday’s dads are helping kids with homework, attending parent-teacherinterviews, or reading to children at bedtime, the positive impact thatinvolved fathers make resonates in their children’s academic success.According to information from CFII, school-aged children of involvedfathers demonstrate the following attributes:

-They are better academic achievers
-They are more likely to get As
-They have better quantitative and verbal skills
-Theyhave higher grade point averages, receive superior grades, or perform ayear above their expected age level on academic tests
-They demonstrate more cognitive competence on standardized intellectual assessments
-Theyare more likely to enjoy school, have better attitudes toward school,participate in extracurricular activities, and graduate.

GlennSacks was a stay-at-home dad for three years and is still very muchinvolved with his children’s school and social needs. While he lovesbeing involved with his two children, Sacks feels that educatorssometimes lag behind the times when it comes to involving fathers intheir children’s schooling. “Even now,” says Sacks, “if somethinghappens at school, [teachers] still call my wife. She will tell them,‘call my husband – he deals with that stuff.’”

So, with all ofthis useful and important data backing up the important role offathers, what else do dads need to get more involved? Sacks has advicefor dads who truly want to be more involved with their children: “Justdo it,” he says simply.

The work of Fathers 4 Justice and the Pain of Fathers ~ Activism in the UK

Equal and Shared Parenting ~ The Movie