Volume 91, Issue 93

Wednesday, March 25, 1998



The changing role of the father

By Carolyn Wong
Gazette Staff

Amongst the clutter of ringing cell phones, a messy desk and a dayplanner brimming with work-related meetings, a high-pitched cry is heard, a baby's rattle is found and a Little League game is penciled– papa realizes that he has a brand new bag of responsibilities. As the evolution of two-income households has altered the role of women in society, the position of men and the role of fathers has recieved a face-lift as well.

"[The role] is changing dramatically and more men are becoming aware of their responsibility to the future generation," said Neil Campbell, director and founder of Dads Canada Initiative, a national support organization. Campbell compares a man in his 60s, who would expect a married man to be the only one in the family to have a career, with a modern man in his 20s, who would be very open to a more equal situation with his wife.

There are several reasons for these changes. Nikkie Cordy, a London-based psychotherapist and an administrator for the Dads Canada Initiative, believes with two-income families there is more pressure and opportunity for the father to be involved and create equal parenting. Men are now realizing they have been missing out and want to become more active in areas of parenting and housekeeping, Cordy adds.

Larry Degraw, a father of three from St. Thomas, reflects the views of the modern dad. "Life nowadays is more involved. Mothers want to do more out of the house so it necessitates that the husband has to do more in the house," he says. "You both have to work, you have to split up everything from household chores to spending time with the kids."

Another reason may be that since women have enriched the work force in recent years, men are considering staying at home because their wife's income is equal or greater than his own, Campbell explains.

"You really can't put it down to one reason why the modern dad has evolved," says Degraw. "It has come from a combination of lifestyle changes and other changes and demands. Also, the sharing of responsibilities has happened because families want to keep up with the Joneses so they both have to work."

The image of the typical father, most infamously portrayed by Al Bundy and Homer Simpson are now outdated, Campbell says. "The father's view of the family is very different from the mother's and the media portrays the father very poorly.

"These images are from a mother's perspective, such as the film Mr. Mom. The media needs to start portraying fatherhood and family through the looking-glass of the father," he explains.

DAD CLASSES. Studies show that in the first three months of a child's life, there is more stress in the parent's marriage because the couple struggles to adjust to the new partnership. Campbell explains that if the husband wants to become more involved, the couple has trouble adjusting to this change because their parents probably live by the idea that the mother took care of the kids, said Campbell.

Dads Canada Initiative also provides pre-natal classes for men which run for the last six to nine months of pregnancy. The fathers-to-be attend these "Dad classes" for two hours a week and the mother attends during the fifth week of the course.

"The beauty of the 'Dad class' is that it brings men together to look at themselves as they are today, as they see their role models and as they want their kids to be," says Cordy. "Men are not used to talking about themselves as men and as fathers and these classes give them the opportunity to do so."

One of the most important reasons for a father to get involved with his child from the very beginning, is that it lessens the chance for abuse in the future because aconnection that is made very early will remain strong through the childhood, their teenage years and beyond. "The more a father knows about his child the occurrence of abuse lessens," says Campbell.

Fathers who are not expecting any more children can still become more involved at any stage in their child's life, Cordy says. Fathers can speak out and be more active by taking them to their doctor appointments, driving them places more often and if the children are in grade school, dad can participate in their field trips, attend parent-teacher interviews and spend time with them during professional development days, Cordy says.

©Photo by James Pugsly

JUST LIKE MOM. In recent years, the figures on fathers show a new trend is on the rise: dads are now fighting for and receiving the custody of their children and the rate of single fathers is continuing to climb in Canada.

"What helps men when they go to fight for the sole custody and even just access to see their children, is the increasing recognition of fathers as care-givers," Tim Ready, president and founder of Fathers Helping Fathers, says.

Established last October, Fathers Helping Fathers is a London-based organization that provides support for fathers who are going through the trials and tribulations of divorce and custody issues in court. Support is offered through monthly meetings, by accompanying them to court and by helping fathers battle feelings of isolation and frustration.

"Society is starting to open their eyes to what the basic needs are and they are starting to accept single fathers," Ready says.

There is sometimes the myth that courts favour women, since there is a stereotype that women are better care-givers, says Camille Riggs, a family lawyer in London and the vice-president of the Middlesex family Law Association. "The courts take into account the status quo," she explains.

"If the children have been living with their mother during the separation and that situation is fine, then the courts tend not to interfere with the status quo," Riggs explains. "The situation could be the opposite, in which the children have been staying with the father and once again, the court will try not to disturb the established arrangements."

Fathers not only have felt frustrated while fighting for sole custody but even for access to see their children: "The courts need to listen more to a father who is concerned about his children's well-being, but men also have to learn to open up and start expressing their feelings," Read explains.

While more men are fighting for custody and access, it is important to remember that in every situation, the decision must be made in the best interest of the children. "The key to understanding the role of access is to know that it is not the entitlement of the parent but the right of the child," Riggs says.

"There is a task force working on making custody and access reforms, but it will be a slow and tedious process," Cordy says.

Glazier adds, "the government will give money to those agencies that are willing to take this on, but their willingness will only increase as the need for these social services increase."

DADDY'S LITTLE HELPER. Unlike support groups for women, there are very few organizations set up to help support men.

The Hardy Geddes House of the Western Area Youth Services, runs programs that help fathers from ages 14-22 cope with problems. Mike Glazier works with teenage dads at the Hardy Geddes House and helps single fathers who may be having conflicts with the law, drugs and alcohol or just need a place to stay.

Glazier says people are becoming parents at a younger age. Single fathers are taught problem solving and life skills, assisted in job searching and finding a place to live.

Some of the teenage fathers may have sole custody or just visitation rights, but regardless of the legalities, Glazier finds that everyone he works with wants to be involved with their child.

"Although there are a lot of responsibilities involved, they see the importance of creating male role models for their children," he says.

One of the difficulties single fathers face is learning to adjust to being a proper parent. "Sometimes when the kids start fighting or disobeying you, you feel like lashing out but you can't," Ready explains. "You have to stop and listen to them and let them know that you are there for them," she stresses.

For single fathers who are struggling, Ready offers some words of wisdom. "Raising children is a constant learning experience. You just go day by day and try different things until something works and you never stop learning."

To Contact The Focus Department: gazfocus@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1998