I asked Catherine to write for us because I knew we would get an honest post. But more than that, I knew it would be thought-provoking and probably quite a difficult read for many. This blog is not afraid of embracing such!
I feel honoured to have Catherine guest blog for us, and will stop blethering on bar extending a huge THANK YOU!
When I got asked to write a post about what challenges a dad might face in 2011, my immediate reaction was to roll my eyes a bit, blow the word ‘pfft’ very loudly and sarcastically, and make a sarkey comment about the price of cigarettes and playstation games and how to avoid paying the CSA. In my short but eventful life, I have had the misfortune to meet a plethora of bad fathers. Some have been absent, or in prison, some living lives contaminated by drugs and crime, some father to multiple families of different women. Some have babymothers who refuse to let them see their kids, others control and hurt the mothers of their children.
My own father was probably the ideal stereotypical father. Married to my mother, he went out to work and she did the lions share of the childcare and household duties. We had a lovely existence in the countryside, if money was tight we didn’t know about it – we were never hungry and always had clothes and shoes. Fast forward thirty *ahem* odd years and I find myself knocked up by the bloke I’m trying to get rid of, a jealous and paranoid man who I was afraid to even break the news of my pregnancy to. He made my pregnancy one of the most stressful times in my life and I am blessed that those negative emotions didn’t affect my wonderful son, with his eternally sunny nature. After an episode of violence that put my son at risk, I refused to let him see his son unless there was another person in the room, so he took me to court to try for access. It was denied.
In general day-to-day life, I’m afraid, the role of a father does appear to come across as a negative one. Too much media attention is focussed on the Jeremy Kyle cases and I really think that most dads get short shrift. Yes, there is a small step in the right direction, I suppose, with the introduction of parental leave, but men as well as women are suffering heavy financial burdens at the moment. Men, and women, but in families it is predominately still men, are having to work longer hours, travel further and take on less secure employment, because it is the only work available. For many, if you don’t work a day, you don’t get paid, or the work will simply be passed to the next willing participant.
As a woman, it is impossible to imagine how a father must feel. I carried my son for nine months, pushed him out of me and he survived the first six months of his life exclusively on the milk that my body made for him. That is a truly magical and awesome experience, and I look at my son and truly marvel in the wonder of nature. The bond is incredible, and I wonder how a man, who has not had the experience of a life growing inside him, can feel as strongly as I do for a child. Some men do, and some men don’t, just as some mothers clearly don’t bond with the life that they have produced.
Men who care to spend time with their children or provide the maternal role in the family are seen as unusual. I was at my Surestart centre this week, and a father was there with his child. There were whispers of ‘ooh, isn’t it good, to see a man here’, though men have every right to enjoy the company of their children too. If they do attend such centres, it must be quite an isolating experience, with the women, all huddling and snatching furtive glances. For the women, it is hard to approach a dad in such circumstances because talking to a man could be seen as stepping on another woman’s toes, or in fact the man might get the wrong idea and think that you are being flirtatious. And men around children…it’s a sick sad world out there, and I know that plenty of women are child abusers too, but it does cross your mind. I try so hard to be non-judgemental but try as I might, the horrid media has somehow gotten into my mind and twisted me, just a little.
It is hard for men to break into that exclusive clique that is the role of the primary carer. Harder still, to break the mould and admit that they’d like to spend more time with their family, and to demand fairer working practices. After all, women have been calling for fairer terms of employment for years, and at the moment politically, we seem to be regressing. The challenge for men in the year 2011? To fight for their sons to have the kinds of lives that they would themselves like, to work for a society with secure, fair, and fairly paid employment and for the country to recognise that we all have a right to spend time with our parents, that families are important, unless of course, that such time would (as in my and other cases) be detrimental to the wellbeing of the child.