The dad factor

June 20, 2011

Defying traditional household gender roles. Photo source: Chad Springer, Getty Images.

On Mother’s Day, we wrote about feminism to honour our Mom. Strangely, even putting Father’s Day on the calendar was a gender-based battle. Apparently, the idea of men receiving sentimental greeting cards was comical.

Not to our father, who wasn’t big on stereotypes. We’re feminists, in part, because of him.

Anyone can become a father, but not everyone can become a Dad. That’s a title earned reciting Dr. Seuss and chauffeuring to soccer practice. Our Dad did all of this and the household chores while sitcoms made a spectacle of the idea—as if men raising children is a comedy of errors.

Along with the cleaning and laundry, Dad made our school lunches. Granted, most days this consisted of processed cheese on white bread. Mom helped, of course, and she did the taxes and minor repairs around the house. We grew up with the assumption that all parents shared domestic duties. Later we realized our household defied traditional gender roles.

Since then, we’ve seen fatherhood span every extreme.

At the World Economic Forum, we’ve watched Fortune 500 fathers breakdown in tears and confide that after working 90-hour weeks, their kids won’t speak to them.

In developing countries, it’s not uncommon for men to leave home for extended periods to work, while keeping one family in the field and another in the city. In the United States, one in three kids is considered “fatherless.” And in Canada, only 12 per cent of eligible fathers take parental leave, outside of Quebec, which has extended benefits.

That said, we don’t live in a Leave it to Beaver society; our cultural norms don’t set fathers up for success. In divorce cases, fathers struggle to gain custody.  Discrepancy between work and school schedules is stress-inducing for both parents, but men cite longer work hours as the biggest barrier to quality family time. And in the U.S., where absent fathers plague the social system, paternity leave is rare. In other industrialized countries, like Iceland, new fathers are entitled to three months of paid leave.

Apparently, our Dad was way ahead of his time.

A recent study from Oxford University predicts that domestic equality won’t be reached until 2050, when men and women will divide household chores and childcare duties evenly. No doubt women everywhere are wondering how men will catch up in just four decades.

We’ll get there if we invest in fathers, support their roles as caregivers and chip away at stereotypes. We can start with the macho male formula for success, where a man is measured by his paycheque, the title on his business card and the speed of his car.

The father figure is not nearly as sexy. The guy who trades his BlackBerry for a baby monitor might forfeit corporate status. But this is the Dad who’ll be a hero in his child’s earliest memories. Ours’ play like a movie reel of iconic images—running to bed for a story, fishing with Dad. Fatherhood is the most important job in a man’s life, and children are a living legacy.

Countless studies affirm that paternal influence translates to well-adjusted kids. Children of involved fathers get better grades, relate more empathetically to others and have higher self-esteem.

Of course, studying fatherhood like a scientific phenomenon doesn’t account for every scenario. New Canadians might work seven days a week to give their children a better life. Our grandfather worked 365 days a year in a small grocery store to send his son, our Dad, to university. Because of his father, our Dad had more time with us.

To be present in a child’s life is the greatest gift a father can give.

One of our fondest father-son moments is Dad stirring a bright orange vat of mac and cheese for a troop of 40 raucous Scouts.

Craig now sits on the board of Scouts Canada, and there’s a pervasive myth that the group isn’t attracting as many kids. Not true—we need more adult volunteers. Parents are eager to ship their kids off for the experience, but less likely to sign themselves up.

To all the deserving Dads out there, we promise your kids will grow to appreciate your efforts—even if your teenager keeps a safe distance.

Thank you, Dad. When we become fathers, we’ll know what to do.

Use our library of resources to find lesson plans to support your commitment to engaging, educating and empowering your students.

Library of Resources

Sign up now to receive each weekly Global Voices column emailed directly to your inbox, plus related educator lesson plans and helpful links to information on global issues—an ideal resource package for stimulating classroom discussions and activities.

Sign Up