Father Knows Best

20 March 2012
According to a new study (well, it was out last week - I've been busy) fathers are averse to attending parenting courses because they're seen to be stuck in the 1950s. This comes as no surprise. Having recently passed through the public maternity system, it was depressing the extent to which all the literature reinforced an archaic view of parenthood - that fathers are distant, uncomfortable with children, unsure what to do. Returning from an early midwife appointment, I without reading it first handed DH an info booklet I'd been given of information for new fathers. I soon heard him laughing tersely. The booklet actually advised fathers to spend time with their children, make eye contact with them, and talk to them. "Don't they think fathers know that?" DH asked as he tore the brochure up, just a little hurt, I could tell. Why this assumption that men know nothing about kids until they have them, and are dragged reluctantly to parenthood by their partners? DH was even more eager to have a baby than I was; it's the same with several of my friends, with the male partner excited to become a dad as soon as possible and the female wanting to wait a few more years.

You wouldn't know it from a visit to a bookstore. I tried to find DH a good book about becoming a new father, but all I could find were "hilarious" accounts from comedians who unexpectedly became fathers in their late 30s and had apparently never held a child before then. Much asking of "what's a placenta?" and putting on of nappies back-to-front ensues. The alternative were pastel-covered books written by the people who'd produced the brochures, treating potential fathers like reluctant idiots. I could not find a conversational book to give DH some support through the challenges he was about to face, whilst acknowledging that men might already be aware that babies go through lots of nappies.

There are tonnes of active, involved, aware fathers these days. But you wouldn't know it from the media; there still seems to be a perception that at heart, children are the primary responsibility of the mother (witness the practice of telling women how lucky they are that their male partner is spending time with the kids - let alone telling said male how wonderful it is they take responsibility for the care of their own children). There's a lot of deep-seated assumptions to overcome, it's true. But we have to start somewhere, and surely it makes sense to start at the beginning?


  1. Watch nappy ads closely, or advertising on tv for any child related product. If men aren't the barely tolerated buffoon, they *might* be trusted to hold a child in the final seconds of an advert, handed the said child by a woman portrayed as an all-knowing, all-seeing zen-being of light from the stars.

    Society expects this of men, and assumes distaste when it is disappointed. It's the same reason society doesn't tolerate male kindergarten teachers or child care workers, though now tolerates nurses (even if the patients always address them as 'doctor'. We've seen how ineptly society handles women's issues, just as recent news reports have shown. It is nowhere near ready to start treating men equally with what it still demands as women's work when all it wants from is poor guys is sexmoneyfootball.

  2. It's depressing how far we still have to go on all this. Last week I saw an ad for an open house that said "the girls will love the newly renovated bathroom and the boys will love the extended back deck"...WTF is that about?

  3. it is totally bizarre. even normally logical people become super weird-minded and highly conventional (regardless of practical merit) - but especially when it comes to anything to do with the kiddies all logic and reason is thrown out the window.

  4. I reckon media focuses on men's power, whether wealth or potential for violence. I reckon that's as an extension of power being the measure of a man in society. In contrast I reckon women get their ability to make others happy as their measure. This slots more easily into ideas of parenthood. Men in turn become guardians or monsters in the gender story.
    Plenty of people are happy with traditional gender stories, it gives them identity. But to be both powerful and lovely, that's a real challenge.

  5. A challenge you meet beautifully if I may say :)

  6. a real challenge indeed when men have just as much of an uphill battle as women in getting treated equally, especially on these issues.

  7. So true. It goes right along w/ my husband, aside from ACTUALLY CARING for the kids, also COOKING for them and doing the laundry instead of watching sports (okay, the last one was wishful thinking...but... :)


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