Who’s your daddy?

WHEN my son was born prematurely and we spent the better half of the next two months in and out of hospitals and doctor’s offices, my husband noticed that he was going unnoticed.

Everyone spoke to me. No one even looked at him.

I was reminded of it recently when I read Raising Boys and the author Steve Biddulph spoke of his hospital experience, when a nurse asked his wife if she was happy with her husband holding the sleeping baby. Quite ridiculous and insulting, but it’s a symptom of a learned behaviour.

The traditional role for the man of the family is to be the breadwinner. And, as Biddulph puts it, men must fight for their right to be an involved parent.

Just as women had to fight to be recognised as equals in the workplace (oh wait, aren’t we still doing that?) and in democratic society in general, men must challenge their assumed role in the home.

I should apologise if I come off a little cynical. I do believe men have plenty to offer as involved fathers. Doting dads reduce the chance of unplanned, teen pregnancies and youth violence, but when this “fight” is part of a larger men’s movement… my feminism flexes instinctively.

Sure, it’s important for a generation of men raised by single mothers or “invisible dads” to re-identify with the concept of manhood in a positive way. But couldn’t this fatherhood thing have been about “doing it for the kids” rather than as a flow-on effect? Or was their own identity questioned after they had sons of their own? Who knows… perhaps I just feel threatened in my traditional role as a mother.

As a reporter, I once attended a coming-of-age ceremony held each year at a private boys’ school retreat. They made masks, burned them, talked about what they projected and what was “real”.

I wanted that. Some defining moment where I had to strip away the falsities and get “real”. Maybe play with some fire. My coming-of-age was a signet ring (very pretty, mind) and my mum congratulating me when I got my first period (and frankly, she was fighting a losing battle to try and inspire a PMSing teenager!).

Men and women alike struggle with gender roles, their assumed responsibilities and expectations in a world where the boundaries are blurred into non-existence. Each movement is fine on its own terms, but the danger is that it has the capacity to turn into a turf war in the family home.

At the risk of sounding like a “won’t someone think of the children” nutter, there’s so much power struggle at play in most households already, let’s hope neither movement forfeits a happy home.

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