Are distant fathers and tyrannical fathers related?
There's a great report on the BBC today ahead of their new 4 part series examining fatherhood. The new series will show how the stereotype of the tyrannical patriarch often depicted in popular culture is not borne out by documented evidence from science, history and literature.
"The testimonies of fathers, and of their sons and daughters during the
first half of the 20th Century, reveal just how prevalent the loving and
devoted dad was," says Steve Humphries, producer of the new series, 'A Century of Fatherhood', which begins on Monday night.
Also highlighted is research conducted by Professor Joanna Bourke, who examined 250 working class autobiographies
written during the first decades of the century and found that "for
every one who said that father did not do childcare, 14 explicitly
stated that he did."
The report is really interesting, and I'm looking forward to the series. However, there is still a reality about fathers that underpins this myth, and which should not be lost from such discussions. For example, this Oxford University study suggests that fathers are increasingly taking a more active role in childcare, but that women still spend more time with their kids. The Equality and Human Rights Commission also points out that "while there have been huge changes in women's participation in employment over the last 30 years, men's contribution to childcare has not increased at the same rate. In most cases, women continue to shoulder the responsibility for childcare, even in households where both parents work full time."
Maybe the stereotype of the tyrannical father would be more likely to disappear if fathers were, well, more involved with their children? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that men are disinterested in their children. Quite the opposite, family policy – including differing and low paid parental leave for men and women – gives rise to a situation where the state is effectively prioritising motherhood over fatherhood, and we can only hope this changes under new Coalition plans to "encourage shared parenting from the earliest stages of pregnancy".
However, if more fathers protested about this issue, in word and deed, and as loudly as feminists tend to, perhaps these 'myths' would die out even quicker – most of all, because they simply wouldn't make sense anymore. And for fathers reading this who would like to be more active in such a campaign – the Fatherhood Institute might be a good place to start.