Barefoot Harsh Mander

Involved fatherhood

Involved and caring fatherhood helps men break out of the stifling constraints imposed by conventional cultural ideas of what it is to be a man  

In most cultures through the world, fathers have played a different role in tending and raising children, and caring for aged parents, compared to mothers. Fathers have felt responsible to provide financially for their families, to protect them from danger, respond to calamities and emergencies, and discipline children. It is mothers who nurture children, feed, bathe and clothe them, take them to school, and tend to the aged and sick.

Harsh Mander

Many of us believe that these differences result from intrinsic differences between men and women. An extraordinary report called The State of the World’s Fathers — recently released and the first of its kind — shows us how wrong we are. It marshals evidence that men and women are born with equal capacity to care for others, including young children. However, too often has this ability in men and boys been repressed by social norms of masculinity that discourage men and boys from caregiving.

The resounding conclusion of this report, coordinated by MenCare — a global campaign to promote men and boys’ involvement as equitable, non-violent caregivers — is simply that ‘Fathers matter’. Eighty per cent men will be biological fathers at some stage in their lives. But an even larger number will be placed in potential care-roles, with children, the sick, differently abled and aged. Father–child relationships, in all communities, are found to have profound impacts on children. Men’s participation as fathers and as caregivers also matters tremendously in women’s lives. And, it positively affects the lives of men themselves.

The report collects information from 30 countries in five continents to conclude that ‘exciting and farthest-reaching changes (are) happening in the lives of men and women around the world’, as more men are assuming for the first time in history greater care roles within families.

‘Increasing numbers of fathers around the world are actively involved with their children: feeding them, changing diapers, staying home with sick children, and bringing their sons and daughters to school’. Studies in 20 countries show that married men are contributing an average of six more hours of housework and childcare a week than 40 years earlier, but still in no country do men contribute more than a third of women’s care-work . Policies and social action are imperative to hasten this pace.

It is well-known that violent fathers tend to foster violent sons. The report quotes numerous studies to demonstrate that tolerance for violence is carried from generation to generation; that boys who saw their fathers use violence against their mothers are more likely to grow up to use violence against their own partners compared to the sons of non-violent fathers. Also that fathers in caregiving are less likely to be violent to their children and their partners.

When boys observe their fathers behaving gently and responsibly at home, taking care of children and the aged, and respecting the equality of women, they tend to grow into men with these values ingrained in their personalities. The report also points to research that demonstrates that girls with fathers who share domestic work equitably are more likely to aim for better-paid jobs conventionally in the domain of men. Equally men who have seen their own fathers engage in sharing care-work are themselves more likely to be involved in household work and caregiving as adults. Involved fatherhood in this way also carries forward across generations: ‘it contributes to boys’ acceptance of gender equality and to girls’ sense of autonomy and empowerment’.

If fathers are engaged and caring toward their children, this is found to contribute to better mental health of both boys and girls, greater development of empathy and social skills in sons and daughters, superior cognitive development and school achievement, and lower rates of delinquency in sons. Engaged fathers also make the home safer and happier for women, and enable them to participate more equitably in the larger economy. They find better paid work, and take enhanced care of their reproductive and physical health and education.

But, most of all, involved and caring fatherhood helps men break out of the stifling constraints imposed by conventional cultural ideas of what it is to be a man. The report quotes men from many corners of the world testifying how finding the spaces to love and nurture their children has helped them become better human beings, less violent, less prone to risk-taking, more physically and mentally healthy, and more emotionally fulfilled.

Yusuf, a 43 year-old Turkish man describes his experience as an engaged father. ‘I started to see and feel: “Something is about to change.” Then my child started to talk a lot to me. A lot. And he noticed I was listening. Now, I try to show my son the love, attention and care that I lacked from my own father.’ 

The views expressed here are personal.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 8:44:30 PM |

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