After a tweet from Ms Sue Tyler that daddy-blogging is all the rage now, and seen as it consumes all the brainpower not devoted to keeping myself out of trouble at work, I thought I would relent. After all, Sue almost single-handedly revived the Wellington craft market scene, and is an early-adopter in many respects.

But, we’ll steer this conversation away from anything resembling cutesy-pie. No, “Chef Du Plunge” learned to say “WTF?” round here…

I was privvy to a conversation the other day between some women who were discussing children, and it turned towards the amount of time they’ve spent away from their newborns. Well… actually… I was eavesdropping, but it was in a good cause, I promise. One woman stated that she regularly leaves the infant with her partner and heads out of the house, thereby allowing herself to spend time with friends, clear her head, get a little exercise, etc. Second Chef enjoys this too, and I actively encourage it. Another woman stated that she had not spent more than three hours away from her child in 8 months, and was almost appalled at the first woman for spending time away.

Now, ignoring that I’m simplifying this conversation, most of which was between people I didn’t even know, the near-accusation of neglect on the part of the mother I can only describe as ‘clingy’ was pretty surprising to me. CDP and I have “father-son” day on Sunday, and it makes me appreciate his yelling all the more! At least I’ve learned to distinguish ‘hungry’ from ‘tired’, and get to teach him things his mother doesn’t.

As an aside, it is amazing how quickly we’ve fallen into Second Chef nurturing him, and me coaching and encouraging him. Last Sunday’s accomplishment was ‘reaching for things’. Not hugely successful just yet, but we’re getting there. I reckon one more week and he might actually realise it’s his hand holding that shiny rattly thing.

Back to the conversation. It soon emerged that the 3-hour woman couldn’t believe the get-out-for-a-coffee/cake woman didn’t worry that her partner wouldn’t hurt their child. I was gobsmacked. I know for certain that Second Chef doesn’t worry about me in the slightest, so it was quite revealing that 3-hour woman was in this space. I surely she could leave the child with someone else, but chances are that she would worry about them too?

I thought about this a lot over the next few weeks, and tried to observe families around the city, which is one benefit of living close to sooo many people. In conjunction with consideration I’ve given to this in the past, including fatherhood role models I’ve copied, what I concluded is that men are possibly and sometimes excluded from active parenting because of kind of anxiety by mothers. The depth of this exclusion varies, but ownership of a baby is frequently afforded to the mother, and the father is relegated to a safe support role with things like ‘fetching’. In part this is because men haven’t been given models of active fathering, but sometimes this is because the mother has been given a boundary-oriented, passive, and “protective” model for fathering (which again speaks to the capacity for violence).

Second Chef was educated for a time in Hong Kong, and before we had CDP she’d often comment about how you can often see Asian men out with their children, and how it was different to the traditional New Zealand pattern of woman and child, maybe Dad tagging along. I watched for this, and observed it as well. It is not always the case, but is frequently true.

What I’d be interested in knowing is the extent to which this is tied to the fear of male violence? I is true that men are often considered a danger to children, in many ways, and for that reason there is an uneven undercurrent of distrust.  A friend commented on this after his divorce. While married he was just Dad, but afterwards he was aware of people paying a little more attention to his relationship with his daughters. Almost overnight he became a potential threat.

It worries me that I hear this type of concern. A society where men are engaged with their children, and considered safe, is healthy for families and fathers. One where men are excluded, and where their ability to own part of their child’s development is curtailed is one in which children can start of become “other”.

And so what’s the way round this? I dunno. I’m still thinking that my thoughts are muddled on this. What I do know is that taking an active role in the boys’ life is an inherent good, and the least I can do is encourage other fathers to do the same. Even though it’s miserable when the guys are out on a stag night and you’re at home helping take care of a sick wee tacker.

Better than the alternative though aeh? Isolation.

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