The Fathers as we see them (through the lens of our culture) 

  
Lego started to recognise the changing role of fathers in our culture. We have now Lego figurines with happy fathers pushing buggies and staying at home with the children. And it’s great, the message sent by main players on the market is heard by many families and it does have an impact on our perception of social norms. Role playing toys are powerful medium through which our children receive hints on what are the accepted ways of doing things in our society. 

But do we really know what we expect from fathers these days?
I think fathers have several reasons to feel confused about their role in the family.

Stupid jokes

The thing which strikes me each time I come across it in social media, is circulation of insensitive jokes about fathers. Fathers are patronised, pictured as incompetent, silly people, who seek woman’s help in all the tasks concerning children. I recently saw a joke-chart on FB saying mummy is the one answering all sorts of questions children might have and father who is presented with the only single question: where is mummy? Other example is an image of a family bed, where father sleeps uninterrupted on ‘his half’ of the bed, while mother is awake on her side, having have to accommodate the children (and the dog and the cat) there; and obviously – doesn’t get any sleep at all. It might put a smile on someone’s tired face when after many sleepless nights. It can be viewed as a sort of acting out-frustrations joke. But in fact this enhances the false picture of fathers as those uninvolved and disinterested parents. Whereas in every single family I know, fathers take a big part in minding small babies at night (even when they have to get up the earliest and go to work).
I understand these jokes as displacement of anger and frustration onto fathers (husbands, partners). These difficult emotions are completely normal and understandable, but dealing with these feelings through partners and leaving them look incompetent and selfish is not fair.

Segregation

Fathers face contradictory expectations regarding their participation in bringing up children. The question I often heard when our first child was born, was: “Is your partner helping?”. I didn’t feel word ‘helping’ was accurate description of our arrangement. It wasn’t him helping with the child, it was us bringing up the new baby together; each of us bonding with our daughter in our ways. It wasn’t me giving him access to the child for the time of ‘helping’ or him thinking: ‘I’d better help out a bit here’.
But the most vivid example of fathers being expected to get involved but in some special, father-like way is a gender segregated parenting. Parent-toddlers groups are mainly attended by mothers from obvious reason – they are still main care givers – staying at home parents, who seek for social support and company for their children; it’s mainly mother-toddlers group we are speaking about. 

Nevertheless, there are stay-at-home-fathers and single fathers, who would also benefit from attending toddler groups. It is much more difficult for fathers to make an appearance in such groups. When fathers enter a toddler group it’s like they invade the space reserved for mothers. It seems to be uncomfortable for both mothers and fathers. A few times I experienced weekend meet ups, where few fathers turned up. They usually ended up half hidden, in the corner of the room, or squeezed between two mothers turned back, chatting with someone else. Latter on, those fathers, who made it to the meeting was labelled as ‘brave’. There was also a suggestion, that fathers should have their own, fathers’ meeting set up. 

Why is it brave to attend a meeting, which should be a joint pleasure – an occasion to see a child interacting with other children? Why isn’t it ‘normal’ to meet and talk about parenting (or something else, for that matter), in a mixed – mothers and fathers group?
The reason might be our deeply rooted traditional way of thinking about parenting. It is not necessarily helpful these days, but it’s there, as an artefact of the old order.

On the other hand, it preserves the importance of mothers’ role and gives them power to lead and dictate the conditions in the world of bringing up children. 
All parties: children, mothers and fathers are benefiting from shifting power relations and more engagement of fathers and mothers in family life. Change isn’t easy and some fathers might need more encouragement in taking up the roles which traditionally belonged to women, and mothers might need to find ways to be more open to change too.

What Fathers definitely don’t need is a prejudice attitude that comes from the past and is often unconscious, that pushes them to the sidelines. This isn’t good for fathers or mothers, but most importantly it isn’t good for our children.
Photo source

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Alcohol and ‘real man’

Two weeks ago I went to Tesco and saw early bird Christmas shoppers. One man pushing his trolley alongside mine had it literally filled with bottles of wine.
This picture was for me a prelude to the alcohol related issues presented by Irish media.

It unsurprisingly made me think of children and the impact our social role modelling has on them regarding alcohol consumption.

Last week I listened to heartbreaking story of Natasha Eddery – the daughter of Pat Eddery – national legendary jockey, who died at the age of 63. She spoke about her father’s drinking problem and how it impacted on her and her family.
Few days after this account, RTE1 invited an expert to the Morning programme and discussed alcohol consumption during Christmas and how difficult it becomes for families who have a man in the family drinking far too much.
I then looked at the statistics and reports published by national charity Alcohol Action Ireland and realised how scary they are. From alcohol related crimes, health issues, problems caused within families, to mental health and suicide. To quote only two of the issues reported: ‘One in four deaths of young men aged 15-39 in Ireland is due to alcohol’. ‘Seven in ten men in Ireland who drink are drinking in a way which is already causing damage to their health’.

Men are much more exposed to alcoholism and it starts very early in their lives.* In fact it starts in our heads where we create socially accepted images of what real man should and shouldn’t be doing. There is much going on in our society to tackle damaging images we produce about woman, LGBT communities, ethnic groups. I believe we are moving in a right direction of developing equal and inclusive society. But at the same time I can’t see much going on about changing traditional, well established expectations towards men and their way of expressing themselves and their emotions.
Since my son, who is nearly 12 months old, was born I heard comments, like: ‘proper boy’ and ‘that’s what boys do’, referring to his busyness or adventurous behaviour. And from the same people I also heard (talking about some common friend) that he drank beer like a proper man. These words are worrying me, because they are expressing socially accepted expectation towards man, and boys who will be pressurised to grow into ‘proper man’: you should drink and you should know how to drink. That’s what man do here.

It starts with small signals sent to small boys: naughty, busy, less patient and less attentive than girls – that’s only few examples of how boys are perceived and unconsciously encouraged to behave. Then it moves towards being strong, brave and ‘dealing with emotions like a man’. These boys have also a role models – their fathers, uncles, cousins – who in vast majority are frequent and intense alcohol consumers. It is so obvious, that people who don’t drink really stand out, often being perceived as strange.

These boys are then becoming teenagers who have alcohol easily available as the way of belonging to the social group, as an escape from difficulties, as a risk factor which becomes very attractive.

This is how our society prepares us to go through transition to adulthood.

We all know it, but at the same time we don’t do anything about it.

But there is a link between terrible statistics and the way we think about our boys.

It comes from generations and we can change it by challenging the unconscious images and expectations, which occupy our minds and slip out through simple and ‘innocent’ comments.
*Unfortunately I can’t say that woman are free from drinking problems. There is a growing number of woman catching up on alcoholism and binge drinking. Alcohol become unquestionable part of our lives, being marketed as the best partner for virtually every occasion. Nevertheless it is not traditionally a ‘woman’s thing’ and this post focuses on a tradition influencing men’s drinking habits. For more on women’s drinking visit:

http://alcoholireland.ie/facts/women-and-alcohol/

http://health.gov.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/womenSubstanceAlcohol.pdf

Photo:

http://www.lchs.com.au/gambling-alcohol-drugs