'It is a rare father that knows his own son' - William Shakespeare
Fatherhood encompasses a range of theories, perceptions and experiences; while the roles and responsibilities are undergoing significant changes. The complexity of societal change has affected the understanding and definition of fathering - with many traditional models of ideal types being challenged. As a lecturer of young people aged 14-19 I have witnessed a decline in active fathering; many of my students are denied relationship with their fathers, others are unsure who or where they are; even those with present fathers describe an emotional disconnection. These stories sadden me especially as these relationships or lack thereof impact their growth and development. This topic is dear to me and I seek to delve into this issue in greater detail within this post.
Research indicates a number of 'ideal types' in relation to fathering; from a traditional 'breadwinner' to the much more recent 'involved dad'. While model s exist how do fathers view these and to what extent do they inform their understanding of the role? There is no perfect model and no instruction manual to create a perfect father; subsequently fatherhood becomes individualised as fathers respond to change within the family and society. Reflecting on personal circumstances while adapting to new roles can be a challenge for today's fathers given the variety of different models presented. Literature on fathering presents 'epochs' of fathering with each period having definite cultural guidelines. These translate into four specific periods for fathering; the moral teacher, breadwinner, sex-role model and most recently the nurturing father (Williams, S 2009:489). In summary the first epoch involved fathers taking responsibility for the moral and educational needs of the children, the second is the bread-winning role which is linked with the onset of the industrial revolution, the third the father's function was to help men fit into family life, the final which is present sees good fathers determined by their involvement with the children in addition to their performance of the other tasks mentioned above. I will be examining fatherhood from the perspective of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (1943).
The basic level of need are physiological; food, water, clothing and shelter. For many men this is the fundamentals of fatherhood - the ability to provide for their children (Warin et al, 1999).This is intrinsically linked to the 'breadwinner' role that fathers themselves ascribe as their responsibility. However Warin et al, (1999) argues that these stereotypical roles hold men back from playing a more active role in the lives of their children.
As we move up the hierarchy we reach 'Safety' - this relates to being able to protect your children so they grow up in a secure environment. This level also includes employment stability, responsibilities to maintain their health as well as moral education. The next level is ' Love and Belongingness' - this is our need to obtain love and intimate relationships. The majority of fathers love their children however their display of this may not always meet a child's need. Often providing is seen as a sufficient way to display love. I once heard an old family friend proclaim; 'What is love? Love is me putting electricity in this house so my children can read, love is the food I put on the table.' This was in response to his son asked to spend more time with him and he claimed he was too exhausted from work. His response is telling as to his understanding of fatherhood; for him being a breadwinner was enough; although his son seemingly wanted more. The home is a primary source of socialisation where children learn by what they see, hear and experience. Understanding the reciprocal nature of love is crucial to development.
Further up is 'Esteem' which includes the need for recognition from others, confidence and achievement. Are fathers recognised for their efforts? Morris (1990) and Pahl (1989) discuss how pride plays a major role in fatherhood especially in relation to providing and the control of finances. With many women part of the labour force men can feel devalued and emasculated when they are not the primary provider in the home. Do these roles translate to how men participate as fathers in today's society? The concept of 'Esteem' as a need also relates to children receiving praise and affirmation from their fathers - in turn building their confidence and self-esteem. I will examine the final step of the hierarchy at the end.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight an impactful organisation 'Father to Father' started by Courtney Brown, (assistant head of year 11 at Cardinal Pole Secondary School in Hackney) to empower fathers. They support, promote and educate fathers and their families by providing information, advice and guidance to enhance personal, social and economic well-being. Using personal experiences - learning from mistakes he made as a father Courtney channels his energy into providing a much needed and respected organisation. As part of the organisation Courtney Brown joined with Wilbur Yankey to create 'Father's Room' a place for fathers to discuss issues, socialise, network and support each other in a comfortable and safe environment. They aim to raise awareness amongst dads and to encourage open discussion and disclosure of anxiety and depression during the critical days from conception. This is a crucial time when parental behaviours and attitudes impact upon the development of the child.
Past topics have included:
Health and mental well-being
Drugs & Alcohol
Keeping Fit and Eating well
Alongside workshops Father to Father run a number of events that bring families together. I was privileged to attend their recent 'Inspiring Mother Awards' on 5th March 2016 at St Edmunds Hall in Edmonton. During this event Father to Father and the community honoured, celebrated, praised and thanked mothers for all they do. This event truly humbled me as I watched the men serve all the women during the dinner; an awesome occasion for the younger men to replicate. The night was full of poetry, drama, musicians and inspirational speakers alongside appreciating and awarding mothers. Their hard work and dedication has been honoured at 10 Downing Street as part of the Charity Champion Initiative.
Father to Father also raise awareness of another awesome initiative - F.R.E.D (Fathers Reading Every Day). As an author I aspire to promote literacy and as a father I recognise the importance of reading to your children. FRED helps dads understand how important their reading is and supports them to get into the habit, even if they work long hours or only see their children at weekends. It is a simple, home based 'reading for pleasure' programme offered through primary schools which takes just four weeks but its impact has the potential to last a lifetime.
‘Fathers have an important role to play in their children’s literacy development. However, involving fathers in their children’s literacy activities not only benefits their children. There are also numerous benefits that have been reported for the fathers themselves, including greater skill acquisition, greater confidence and self-esteem, a better father-child relationship, and increased engagement with learning’. Clark, (2009)
Returning to Maslow's hierarchy of need the pinnacle is self-actualisation; behaviour in this level is motivated by one's desire for personal growth and to reach their full potential. In order to achieve this self-fulfilment all prior levels of need must be met. We want fathers to be able to help guide their children to this stage; to raise children who are creative, have strong morals, lack of prejudice and an intrinsic motivation to achieve.
There are many misguided young people losing their way to the streets, killing each other, many being excluded from school at a rapid rate, high reoffending rate.
Just being a breadwinner is a limited view of fatherhood. There is growing evidence to suggest that men are taking increased responsibility for childcare even if the mother is the primary caregiver. While others argue that cultural stereotypes of fatherhood can prove to be barriers to men playing active roles in what are traditionally seen as 'mothering' activities; things are shifting. In this new age a more complex understanding of modern life is necessary to fully unpick tasks performed by fathers.
As a father of a beautiful six year old, I remember fondly the day Summer was born and the promises I uttered to both myself and my daughter. These included elements that are reflected in Maslow's hierarchy. I want to be the best I can be for her. This does not mean I won't make mistakes on the journey. I am happy that organisations such as Father to Father and campaigns like FRED exist to encourage men to be more involved with their children. Active fathers are crucial.
For more information of Father to Father visit -www.father2father.co.uk
Clark, C. (2009) Why Fathers Matter to Their Children’s Literacy. National Literacy Trust.
Williams, S. (2009) what is fatherhood? Searching for the reflexive father.
Maslow, A. (1943) A theory of motivation.
Morris, L. (1990) The working of the household. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Pahl, J. (1989) Money and Marriage. London: Macmillan