Sun | Aug 14, 2022

Kristen Gyles | Creation of the by-standing parent

Published:Friday | May 27, 2022 | 12:15 AM
While it is non-negotiable for dad to take care of his child, he has no say in whether or not the child is born, yet mom does? Are fathers right-hand men to mothers or actual parents?
While it is non-negotiable for dad to take care of his child, he has no say in whether or not the child is born, yet mom does? Are fathers right-hand men to mothers or actual parents?

Fathers must be held to their full responsibility as parents. They are not backup or reserve parents waiting to be called in from the bench. However, I am afraid the society itself which so hypocritically lambastes fathers for not meeting a reasonable standard of parental commitment continues to de-emphasise the role of fathers. In one way or another our biases find their way out into the open through some of the most popular but not-so-thought-out ideologies.

Every single time the abortion conversation comes up, my gears grind. Whatever one’s position is on the matter of abortion, the “my body, my choice” posters and placards send a rather reductive and oversimplifying message. A child, baby, foetus or clump of cells is the product of two people. Until that can be understood, fathers will never really see the need to live up to their rightful roles as parents. Fathers have the same rights and duties to their children, babies, foetuses and clumps of cells as mothers.

Once a child is born, its two parents must figure out how they will ensure the child is cared for. The baby cannot be forced back up the womb, so, wanted or unwanted, mom and dad have a moral duty, at minimum, to ensure childcare measures are put in place. Dad may not have known a baby was coming and may not want a baby. Yet, that will never be an excuse for him not to live up to his obligation as a parent.

Why on earth would it make sense then, that while it is non-negotiable for dad to take care of his child, he has no say in whether or not the child is born, yet mom does? Are fathers right-hand men to mothers or actual parents?

SAD TRUTH

The sad truth is that many men don’t care either way. Abortion or not, they weren’t planning to do anything more than come by and pet the child every few weeks anyway. After all, why should they care if the matter of whether the child is born or not is off limits for them? There will always be someone ready to interject the reminder that he is a man and that he should therefore sit out the abortion discussion, so it seems parenting is really not his business after all.

Then there is the issue of parental leave and its whole set of double standards. When a child is born, he or she will naturally spend lots of time with mom. That’s a given. Between breastfeeding, postpartum bonding, and general recovery from childbirth, clearly women need adequate time with the baby after delivery. Ideally, fathers should also be present to bond with the baby and to support the mother through her recovery. Can they be present if they are at work? Hardly.

DOMESTICATED ROLES

As a new world emerges, in which many mothers work full-time just like fathers, there is a need for a reconfiguration of the laws that were drafted in response to the social norms of the BC era. Fathers are no longer spending their waking hours miles away from home, hunting or fishing to feed their families, and mothers are not necessarily sitting weaving baskets at home with the children milling around their feet. Many mothers, like fathers, have to juggle early childcare with work demands.

This has partly resulted in fathers having to adopt more domesticated roles to ensure that the children are not left to raise themselves. Furthermore, in general, families have more income-earning options and are much more flexible than in times past. Paternity leave is a strong signal that regardless of what the family dynamics are, dads are needed and expected to be present in their children’s lives from birth.

What is being suggested is clearly not that the two issues discussed here represent the sum total of all factors leading to father absenteeism. In fact, I would hardly say they are the main factors. But, expectations matter. Low societal expectations of fathers have helped to create bystanding fathers who further perpetuate the low expectations. Fathers, like mothers, should be involved in all stages of child-rearing – starting from the decision to have or not to have a child.

Kristen Gyles is a free-thinking public affairs opinionator. Email feedback to kristengyles@gmail.com.