Involved dads, positive role models, or a threat?
My work means that I talk to men about their experiences of fatherhood and parenting, on almost a daily basis. I hear about their worries and hopes, as well as their experiences along the way. Lots of dads talk about wanting to be actively involved in bringing up their children, but there are also numerous instances of men reporting where they feel they are prevented from doing just this.
This was one recent experience reported to me, from a dad taking his children to school:
“I always take my three children on the school run, the eldest two are in primary school and my youngest is in pre-school.
The routine we have is to drop off the two eldest in the school playground, and wait at the gate with my youngest until the bell goes and their teachers collect them. This way, I know they are now safely in the hands of a responsible adult. At this point my youngest would make his final waves goodbye to his brother and sister, and we would walk down to pre-school.
Normally there is myself and maybe one or two other mums waiting for our children to go in, but this morning there was just me and my son.
Today I was made to feel dirty and uncomfortable, having dropped the two eldest at the playground, I was approached by one of the ladies on playground duty and asked to move on. I asked why and I was told I was not allowed to wait there. It was done quite aggressively and when I said I was unhappy with being told this, and that I would speak to the head teacher about it, I was told ‘You go do that then.’
Feeling very uncomfortable by what had occurred I moved away, and started walking to the pre-school, but decided I really wasn’t happy with what had just happened. So I went to speak to the head teacher. As usual, the head was only too happy to talk to me and to give her full credit, she could not have been more apologetic and reassuring that I was welcome to wait until the bell went and she would speak to the lady in question.
Great – I felt that this had been resolved. Unfortunately, what happened next, saddened me further.
On returning to school to collect my children at the end of the day, I was approached by the lady who had asked me to move that morning. Perhaps she felt awkward, but the way the way she approached me was again quite aggressive and confrontational. Her apology went like this:
'I am sorry you misunderstood me this morning. The head has told me that it was my fault that you misunderstood me, so I have to apologise. But you have to understand that I have a girl at the school and my first priority is for the safety of the children, so I’m sure you can understand where I'm coming from. So are we OK?'
To be honest I was lost for words. I was surrounded by other parents, confronted by this woman and told she was being made to apologise but I must understand she was doing right thing. Quite frankly, I wanted to say 'no – we are not OK!', but instead I chose not to continue the discussion.”
I am saddened by this dad’s story but not surprised – as I said, I have regularly come across similar stories.
Indeed, several years ago, I used to run Father & Baby Massage Classes. I was an accredited and insured practitioner – these were a great opportunity for dads to learn how to massage their babies, enjoy some time with them, and meet other new dads for some peer support. Mums tended to come along too, but sit in a café to enjoy a drink and a chat with other mums while their partners and babies were in class.
One day, I was contacted by a local NHS Trust professional to say that there was a concern about these classes. That it might be ‘safer’ if the mums were also able to be present in the class. That a ‘group’ of concerned parties had discussed it, and it would be better if it was chaperoned to see what ‘these men’ were doing.
I was shocked, the inferences were clear. I immediately complained, and was given a brief apology. But the facts remain the same, a group of FATHERS wanting to bond with their OWN babies, was being seen as sinister.
It's now five years later, but this is the same issue which this father reports happening to him at the playground.
This woman was simply implying that the sheer fact that he's a man means he's perceived as a threat to children. Because we're men, if we're involved with our children (and by default, are therefore also around children), we are a danger.
How can we be equal parents, when we are not seen equally?
How can fathers to be more involved and ‘hands-on’ as parents, when our motives are always in question?
There is so much talk about the benefit of positive male role models, yet society seems intent on preventing our children from having these, at the most important stage of their development, those first seven to eight years. Have you ever noticed how few male teachers there are at primary schools or children’s centres? There certainly seems to be a strong perception for men to overcome and challenge, in order to work with this age group.
What are your experiences? Have your motives ever been challenged when undertaking a parenting role? How do we support dads to be dads?