A new book has inspired PSA member and stay-at home dad Aaron Packard to consider how we can help men to be more hands-on fathers
“No way dad” repeats my son as he demands his mum’s attention in a charmingly two-year old way, drizzled with snot.
It’s time to distract him away from mum, who is on a Zoom call with half the planet it seems, or maybe it’s just her entire staff. “Take him before he ravages my shirt with snot.” It may be Zoom, but you still have to look respectable.
She’s clicking the unmute button, cripes, time is running out. I tempt my son with games, books, and food. Finally, his ears prick up, and I manage to evacuate him just in time.
Such is life for a stay-at home father in 2021. It is absolutely charming and it is also, as Rob Sturrock highlights in his book Man Raises Boy, filled with dark corners and challenges.
Sturrock does the hard yards in laying out the pretty dismal state of fathering in Australia, albeit with a slightly monocultural lens.
CRISIS OF MASCULINITY
Needless to say the issues are transferable to New Zealand. The impact of generations of absentee bumbling fathers who wouldn’t dare change a nappy, the prevalence and numbing effect of porn, digital bullying, and so on. I don’t need to labour the point here, fathering, and more widely, masculinity is in a crisis.
Sturrock pinpoints the industrial revolution as a turning point. Fathers who had until then mostly worked locally and been more hands-on in raising their kids, suddenly started working long hours in factories, away from home. And so the absenteeism began.
He also mentions a deeper factor that deserves more attention: the forced dislocation through colonisation from indigenous ways of fathering, to be replaced by some dogmatic Christian ideas. It’s time we acknowledge this and create space for men to reclaim what has been lost.
WORK TO DO AND UNDO
Inspired by Sturrock, I suggest the public sector could make it easier for fathers to be fathers from the get-go by providing equal paternity leave for dads, and equal pay for women.
We also need to invest in training to help men learn how to father differently from how they may have been fathered, and to embed the role of fathers in our culture(s) through the creation of cultural rites of passage for boys and men.
As a union, the PSA could continue to lead the charge in advocating for structures of work which enable men to be attentive fathers.
Lastly Sturrock challenges us to action. There is no reason fathers shouldn’t be doing very nearly everything mothers can. This book is an important read that challenges fathers to roll-up our sleeves and get involved.