by Andrew Peterson
As a new father myself, I often struggle against the assumption
that the care of children is women's work which fathers are somehow
unable to do. And in my work as a counselor in training, I talk with
many men who are increasingly aware that the disengaged style of
fathering they grew up with is inadequate for their children, their
partners and themselves. They want change.
Twice a month I meet with several fathers here in Missoula for a
fledgling father's support group. These are men who are working hard to
be involved in their children's lives. And at every meeting we ask
ourselves the same question: why don't more men come out for these
support group meetings? Each of us knows other fathers who have
expressed the desire for just such a group. In fact, almost every
father I know thinks that it's a great idea to have a place where men
can talk together about the struggles and joys of parenthood.
But for some reason it's extremely difficult for men to take that
first step, to seek or to create the supportive network that we need in
order to claim a fully-engaged role in the raising of our children.
Here's the problem: because of the assumption that raising children
is women's work, our culture doesn't take seriously men's experience
within families. And for many men this assumption about men's
non-involvement becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When their efforts
to participate in the care of their children are met with amusement,
when their desire to trade a piece of their earning power for time at
home is met with threatened disbelief, it's far too easy for men to
throw up their hands and just get out of the way.
Men can change this. But it will take a conscious effort.
Personally, I refuse to give up the right to raise my child in the
best way I know how. And I've made a commitment - which I hope other
fathers will share - to challenge the assumptions about fathers'
non-involvement whenever I come across them. I take issue with the
unspoken assumption in so many depictions of parenting that fathers will
not be a part of the basic nurturing of their young children. I make it
known that I'm unhappy that the few images I see of fathers parenting
young children usually make men out to be cute, fumbling, buffoons. And
I make a point of being an active, nurturing father when I'm out in
The way I see it, if you don't find yourself reflected in the
images of your culture, you've got no choice but to create those images
If men are willing to make the sacrifice that raising children
requires, if we can risk challenging the assumption that our experience
as fathers is irrelevant, if we finally start demanding our place at the
changing table, then the culture will slowly be forced to recognize and
respond to that change. It's a change which will benefit not only
ourselves, but also our partners, and especially our children.
Andrew Peterson is a free-lance writer and a graduate student in
counseling at the University of Montana. He lives in Missoula.
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