This weekend, the 21st June rolls round again, although on this year’s Father’s Day, the Sunday lunches will be more subdued affairs, enjoyed at home rather than in Ezulwini hotels. As we look to tone down the celebrations of our fathers and father –figures in response to COVID-19, it may be a good time to stop and reflect what we are celebrating, what we expect fathers to be and do and what it means to be a Babe Locotfo (a good dad).
“Life-changing”, “things will never be the same”, “it’s an adventure” – we’ve all heard the sayings used when becoming a new parent. In many ways, bringing a child into this world is the antithesis of how we live the rest of our lives. When we become parents we throw caution to the wind, we invite chaos into our tidy homes and into our orderly lives, which, until this point had been spent trying to control external factors like our finances, our careers, our habits, and our relationships. Becoming a parent is an almost reckless act of relinquishing that control. For the rest of our lives we are appraised by society based not only on our success, but on the success of someone else: our children. We celebrate parents whose children succeed and we judge parents, often disproportionately, when their children slip up on life’s muddy journey.
Of course, it’s expected that parents therefore do everything in our power to give our children the best start in life, to teach them life lessons and strong morals, to allow them the opportunity to be happy and healthy, to achieve their potential in their studies and in their careers, to mould them into wholesome members of society. We do this, in love, because we want the best for them, and for us.
Or at least, this is the plan, the long-term strategy. But, like so many other things in life, we men often don’t stick to the plan. All too often, we fathers get caught up the social roles placed on us by work and providing for the financial needs of the family. After a while, the temptation is to continue to play our role as traditional breadwinners, maintaining just enough “busyness” in our lives to delegate the finer parts of raising children to their mothers, and then later to domestic workers, teachers, coaches, anyone who will take on the role. And breadwinning is often a good excuse for this – it is a priority for many families, gets us out the house, keeps us occupied and gives us status in the eyes of society. We already carry a big burden, so we share the domestic work and child care with others. This is what we tell ourselves. This is what women often allow us to tell ourselves, however counter-productive it seems in the long-term strategy to raise successful, well-adjusted children.
This is not to say that men don’t care, don’t want to see their children succeed or flourish. In fact we often care much more than we’re fully ready to admit. But we find it hard to break these simplistic roles and routines and so it’s easier to stick to what we know and provide in the way we know how.
Being a father is undoubtedly stressful and we need to be kind to dads, on Father’s Day, and the other 364 days of the year. But we also need to ask more of ourselves, as we have asked more of women in recent years. As the typical roles of women and mothers has adapted to the times, with women increasingly working and earning money for the family, we must ask more of men and of fathers. We need to ask more of ourselves, so our children can be more.
And it doesn’t have to be painful, or another stress to add to our full list of worries. In fact, men who participate in the pregnancy, birth and early years of their children’s lives are often transformed by the experiences, motivated towards becoming more efficient with their time and money, more successful at work and more fulfilled in their attachment to children and their spouses.
So this Father’s Day let us say “thank you” to those men who invest in their children’s well-being and not just in their education, who value presence over presents, and who take interest, rather than pay interest, in their children’s lives. Let us change the stories we tell ourselves and others by encouraging those who are challenging what it means to be a man and a father, who stick to the plan, who play an active and meaningful part in this chaotic, magical adventure.