Thursday, 3 February 2011

Paternity test had me fooled

First of February and I mistook it for April Fools Day. Paternity tests went on sale at Boots, making them the first UK high street retailer to do so.

I had this warm, fuzzy image of a young man shuffling towards a pharmacy counter. And then shuffling back. All the while he’s surreptitiously squinting up at the shelves looking for it. £30 and a red face later, he’s back at home. And a few minutes later emerges from the loo, “Honey, it’s blue. You’re pregnant.”

For a fleeting second, I thought the world as we knew it had changed. Not sci-fi type change, just a world where women still had the babies but the men could find out first - just like women do with a maternity test kit. Imagine being the first one to know. Imagine being the one to tell your partner. Imagine having to think about all the things you’d have to think about before telling anyone. Imagine having that responsibility first. Imagine if paternity meant the same thing for men that maternity means for women.

Except of course, my image was fleeting and wishful. Paternity tests don’t tell you you’re going to become a father. They help to confirm that you’re already a biological father to a particular child. How silly of me to even dream that a paternity test would be about care and not just about rights.

Matthew Taylor mused recently on his blog about whether extending paternity leave was a form of social engineering by the government. But paternity has already been socially engineered. Whereas maternity begins with conception, we’re already socially programmed to think that paternity begins only after the birth. Indeed, this presumption is also based on law.

The problem with this – for fathers, for children, for gender equality – is that all too often a mother’s early biological connection with a child is given as a reason for her to be the main and/or the best carer.

I’m not advocating that men should be given greater rights during pregnancy than women nor even that men should be able to have babies. That’s another discussion. What I am saying is that we need to think much more openly about the effect that our understandings of maternity and paternity have on the way we parent and care.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Thanks for white ribbons and other things

Today, most of the USA will be ensconced in its Thanksgiving celebrations, and I know that lots of fathers there are looking forward to the family time that this often brings. With all this thanks going on today, I’ve decided to throw my lot into the melting pot too.

In my research, fathers expressed their thanks for a number of different things:
- Thanks that my ill wife recovered and was able to have a natural birth
- Thanks that I have a healthy child
- Thanks that I have a happy child
- Thanks to my partner for being the best mum for my child
- Thanks to my parents who provide essential and loving childcare
- Thanks to my employer’s who give me the flexi-hours I need so that I can pick my daughter up from childcare
- Thanks to my employer who gives me the time off when family complications arise
- Thanks for asking me to take part in this research; I never thought I had a story to tell
- Thanks for listening and not judging me.

And my personal thanks go to:
- the Economic and Social Research Council who funded mine and other important research in the UK
- my loving and supportive family
- the dads I’ve talked with on the internet
- and a whole bunch of people who’ve helped me develop a web presence for my Dad Thing.

But for all this thanksgiving, my research with fathers also highlighted a number of areas in which dads would be thankful to see some change. For example many dads:
- felt that their role was not seen as being as important or natural as a mothers
- felt that society was overly fearful of men’s involvement with young children and that this prevented many men from getting involved in childcare
- wished that employers and the government treated fathers with more respect and offered more support.

Today is also White Ribbon Day where people wear a white ribbon as a sign of their commitment and oath to help end violence against women. Significantly, the White Ribbon Campaign is one of the first male-oriented organisations to oppose violence against women. For this, many girls, women, children, fathers and families will be thankful. So are you wearing your white ribbon today?

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Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Good dad button?

Twitter, facebook, blogs - everyone's flittering on about buttons and badges.  And that's not just across social media. A similar thing happens in everyday life as we search for positive affirmations about our behaviour.  There is so much in the media and on people's lips about good dads, bad dads, good mums, bad mums.  And there's an awful lot of stuff going on right now about good dads and good men. 

As a fatherhood researcher, people often look to me for a nod on this.  I've written a bit about that on this blog before, but today I'm guest-posting over at the Enterprise Nation website.  Pop over and take a look.

Happy badge-hunting (wink)!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Playing dad's way

Her big eyes widen in surprised delight every time she’s lifted up high above your head. And she beams as she comes down, caught safely in your warm hands. You’re laughing and she’s laughing, and it feels good to be a dad.

Often, this ‘rough and tumble’ is seen to be a dad-thing, enjoyed by both dad and child. Encouraging risks in play - climb the tree a bit higher, balance on the wall – are the kinds of risky play that are often viewed as stereotypically ‘dad’. But many fathers want to play this way. James thought that the risky side of play was “probably what being dad’s all about” because it was something that dads often did differently to mums.

Tony, who shared the childcare of his toddler with his wife, said:“I play rough with James in a way that my wife doesn’t. Women don’t get male rough play, but male animals just enjoy - and it’s fun. It’s fun for me to throw James around and he loves it. There are ways that men play with children which are different from the way women do. And there are ways men are with children which are just different from the ways women are.”

Charlie, a full-time childcare worker with a new baby wondered whether men were more involved in the “physical play and things with children. I’m very much a rough and tumbler with Jasmine - even though she’s so tiny. And Anna (ed. his wife) to a certain degree does, but Anna’s very much more strokey, strokey, carey, carey.”

Others fathers have commented how some activities – like coffee mornings and chats – are enjoyed more by mums than by dads. And other research with fathers who take on primary childcare roles often point out how dads tend to do activities with the children that are linked to the father’s interests, like sport (Brandth & Kvande 1998, Doucet 2006).

What do you think? Do you play with your children in ways that are different to your partner? Would you rather roll around with your children or paint a picture? Is rough play a dad-thing? And does it depend on the time of day?

Add your thoughts in the comments box below.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Men's Hour: are you listening?

Men’s Hour on Radio 5 Live! Of course I was intrigued – but sceptical nonetheless. It was airing at 7.30pm on a Sunday evening. I knew none of our household (nor probably any household we knew) would be tuning in at that time. Most families would probably still be in the throes of dinner, bedtimes and are-we-ready-for-Monday-morning. Other men might be having fun or – as has also been pointed out – watching Top Gear.

And then the bigger question, of course, was whether the programme title was likely to hook any readers. As a fatherhood researcher I was alerted, and as a woman I was curious to quietly listen in to an exclusive boys’ club. A bit voyeuristic, I know….but I suspected not that many secrets were going to be aired.

Sadly, I’ve never got around to reviewing the programme and this is probably going to be the closest I ever get. Because, I have never listened to Men’s Hour! When I questioned its broadcast time, others suggested I use BBC iPlayer to catch up with it. But not only is it on at a strange time, it’s not available on iPlayer. [update: it is on iPlayer - just maybe not on sunday mornings :)]. So Men’s Hour will just have to chug along without me….But, from the reviews out there, I think my voyeurism might be better fulfilled down at the pub!

For those who think they might be free at 7.30pm on Sundays (UK time), here’s the BBC info.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Are you a good dad? Hmmm........

So you do research with fathers? A couple of men turn their heads sharply in my direction. The women watch through the corner of their eyes – yes, we know you’re listening. But one or two men step closer creating a safer space to talk about ‘gender-wars’. They’re curious…..and so am I. What’s she going to say? What are they going to say?

We talk about all sorts of things: childcare, car sickness, work hours, money, pressure, boredom, relationships, leisure, love and film lists, male instincts - and guilt. Yes, guilt – always guilt. Because at the end of the day, the conversation is almost always about reassurance and affirmation: I think I’m a good dad….but do you, objective-researcher-who-is-a-mother, think I am?

Are you a good dad? Heck, I don’t know. Am I a good mum? There are things you could do differently and I will draw on my research findings to make suggestions. But, I’m sure there are things that your children, partner and friends would like you to do differently. Ask them, they’ll have a much better answer than I do. I wonder if they ever do….

Funny thing is, the mums who were eyeing the conversation never ask what we spoke about.