Monday, June 8, 2009

Conspiracy of Silence?

Yes, it's that wild and crazy time of the year when fatherhood is back on the cultural radar. I honestly have mixed feelings about Father's Day. It's great to have a holiday promoting the importance and appreciation of dads and yet, between the commercial push and the general shallowness of the media coverage, I find myself shaking my head.

I just came across an article from The Observer over on other side of the Atlantic which goes beyond head shaking to mere bafflement. The basic premise is that more and more men are coming out about how much they don't get or appreciate being dads.


Maybe this is a British thing. I dunno. I mean, are there days that I would like to throw my boys out the window? Are there moments when I feel like banging my head against the wall? Are there times when re-reading their favorite book of Thomas for the 10,000th time is perhaps the dullest experience ever? Absolutely! Boy, there was a moment this weekend when my wife and I were with our sons at the Olive Garden and, between the screaming, standing on seats and food throwing, I'm certain the twenty-something hipster waiter was thinking, "Who would want to do this to themselves?"

And yet, would I change a thing about having kids? Would I trade in the accrued gray hairs, the loss of time, the lack of sleep, the destruction of my home, to be single and free again?

Not on your life.

What also bothered me in particular with this article was the given assumption that somehow dads have no paternal instinct compared to women, so women are just naturally suited for the job. The research about how fathers have chemical changes as well as their counterparts has been substantiated again and again. Sure, being a father really starts on day one for most new dads, but at the end of the day it's on the job training where it's really about, for moms or dads.

I think there's a balance in all of this, of course. Spending all the time taking care of one's kids, just like spending all the time away from them, can be equally troubling for dads. I think it's important for dads (and moms) to keep their sanity by getting out once in a while, having another part of their lives taken up with work, etc. It's this balance which is the toughest in our society and really where the struggle lies.

Maybe it's different for British dads but I doubt it. Maybe there are other dads out there who just don't want to be around their kids. My response to that - don't have kids then! Obviously, fatherhood is not for everyone, but a 'conspiracy of silence'? Please!


Steve said...

Allow me to speak as a token British Dad. :)

I actually have a little more sympathy for this article, but only because I think I read it differently to you. The focus I perceived is on how men (according to the article) do not necessarily attach to their babies from day (or minute) one. But it does not say that they don't attach in time.

Personally, I loved my son the second he was born and I don't agree that fathers universally "need to be won over". But I would say that once the baby is a few weeks old and interacting more it is easier to attach to them more fully (for want of a better description). I've come across many men who are more comfortable with their kids once older (than a few weeks or a few months).

But there is much in this article I don't agree with and statements like "paternal love is learnt behaviour" are just stereotypical garbage.

Like you, I wouldn't change a thing, despite the deprivations. I love being a Dad: it's a big part of who I am. And rest assured, I don't believe for a minute that I am alone in Britain in feeling like this!

Dana said...

Hey Steve-

Thanks for chiming in. I think your point is well taken. There are dads out there who just don't get babies. Obviously, baby care in our culture is still very mom-centric and between breast feeding, gate keeping and dads feeling an obligation to get back to work asap, there's not that much encouragement for dads in general to want to take care of babies.

Once dads are pushed out of the process, it's tough catching up as the mom becomes so much more accustomed to all the little subtle cues a baby makes that only a lot of time around the baby can achieve.

This is too bad as the benefits can be amazing if dads are let in more. Getting close to ones kid(s) early on really sets up a healthy precedent for later on, especially in regards to the dichotomy of 'manliness' and 'sensitivity' that The Observer article speaks of as such a challenge for dads. Kyle Pruett talks about it in his book, Fatherneed, and I think he's on the money.

So, there is a degree of complexity in all of this. Thanks for pointing it out, Steve, and glad to hear from you.