Doting Dads

Saturday 30 October, 5.15pm until 6.30pm, Courtyard Gallery

The Green Paper on Families and Relationships published in early 2010 called for fathers to get more involved in raising their children. The new government supports flexible working arrangements and sharing of maternity leave in order to equalise the role of mothers and fathers. Parenting groups like the Fatherhood Institute stress the importance of close father-child relationships in terms of positive outcomes mooted to range from preventing teenage drug and alcohol abuse to avoiding educational failure or gang membership.

In wider society, the role of parents, and fathers in particular, seems to have shifted away from more traditional, gender-based, conceptions of the family unit in which the man was the breadwinner and the mother the stay-at-home carer. Both parents now aspire to an equal share in responsibility, but the realities of work and even nature are seen by some as preventing fathers from really playing a full role. Men may well be granted formal responsibility by the law, but how does that play out against their inability to breast-feed, or what some see as the necessarily closer bond between mothers and babies? Some argue that involving the father in antenatal care can actually undermine a woman’s right to take personal responsibility for her own body. At the same time, there is a danger of stigmatising as heartless dinosaurs those men who may not feel comfortable with widespread demands that they be present during labour and take an equal share in nappy changing. New fathers are certainly not encouraged to celebrate their new role with a cigar any more: studies claim that smoking fathers lead to smoking mothers, if not to respiratory diseases in infants.

Although getting fathers to nurture and care for their children may sound like a good idea, the involvement of social policy in the minutiae of family life and all its complexity can be something of a minefield. As parents and policy makers both increasingly agree that the interests of the child come first, parents can start to come into conflict as they compete for attention. As fathers determine to be ‘good dads’, might they risk failing to exert the authority children need? Must men really act like mums in order to prove their emotional credentials? If dads are the new mums what’s special about motherhood? Just what is the policy agenda behind getting dads more involved?

Listen to session audio:


Richard Collier
professor of law and social theory, Newcastle University; co-author, Fragmenting Fatherhood: a socio-legal study

Dr Ellie Lee
reader in social policy, University of Kent, Canterbury; director, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies

Rob Williams
chief executive, Fatherhood Institute

David Yelland
partner, Brunswick Group LLP; former editor, The Sun; author, The Truth About Leo

Jane Sandeman
convenor, IoI Parents Forum; contributor, Standing up to Supernanny; director of finance and central services, Cardinal Hume Centre

Produced by
Jane Sandeman convenor, IoI Parents Forum; contributor, Standing up to Supernanny; director of finance and central services, Cardinal Hume Centre
Recommended readings
Clueless dads aren't that funny

It's wrong to portray fathers as domestic incompetents – but women still lose out where it matters.

Gaby Hinsliff, Guardian Comment is free, 26 August 2010

Frank Field's shadowy new scapegoats

The poverty tsar's proposal to remove benefits for 'shirking' fathers lacks clarity and reflects his dated world view.

Jon Davies, Guardian, 29 June 2010

The myth of the tyrannical dad

Fathers of yesteryear tend to be portrayed as cold, detached, even callous creatures. But, says Steve Humphries, the cuddly, hands-on, sentimental dads we know today are by no means a modern-day creation.

Steve Humphries, BBC News Magazine, 17 June 2010

Post-natal depression in fathers 'often undiagnosed'

Many new fathers experience post-natal depression, yet most cases go undetected and untreated, experts warn.

Michelle Roberts, BBC News, 18 May 2010

Support for All: the Families and Relationships Green Paper – Summary

There has never been a more important time for the Government to support families and family relationships. Rapid social and technological changes have brought families unprecedented opportunities and freedom of choice, as well as challenges in terms of responsibility and restraint.

DCSF, Department for Children, Schools and Families, February 2010

Fathers and family health in the perinatal period

A briefing on the benefits of paternal engagement

Fatherhood Institute, 18 January 2010

What are fathers for?

Fatherhood has undergone an extraordinary and messy revolution, the effects of which we are still trying to absorb.

Richard Collier, Guardian, 4 January 2009

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