Fatherhood is an awesome experience. The fabric of fatherhood is woven with threads of sacrifice and love. In search of inspiration for this article, I asked 30 men to identify what they love the most about being a father. While traditional views of manhood depict men as stoic, detached and generally hands-off with children, the responses I got painted a picture of a full range of emotions set against a canvas of warmth, tenderness and affection. “Giving love,” “being there,” “teaching him,” “seeing her smile,” “just spending time with them” are expressions that resonate with the incremental shifts men are making to replace the old versions of being a father with ways that are healthier and more rewarding, for themselves, their partners and their children.
But fatherhood has always been a precarious topic in Trinidad and Tobago. Take for example the norms and values survey conducted a decade ago which revealed that there were 70,000 fewer fathers than mothers in T&T. Unfortunately, no similar study has been done since then, so it is hard to say whether this gap has widened or shrunk. Explanations have been given for the discrepancy though, such as men having children with multiple women or being dishonest about being a father or even not knowing. Nevertheless, the absent father has been put under the microscope for centuries, and the internet and libraries are filled with articles and books that, quantitatively and qualitatively, outline the woes that can befall children when daddy is not there. A lot has been written about the increased probability of children having behavioural problems, abusing drugs or alcohol, going to prison or committing a crime because of the “father factor” observed in nearly all societal ills facing us today.
And fathers who are in the home but passive or emotionally unavailable are equally a source of frustration, and some would argue even more so. But this article is not to bemoan any crisis of deadbeat dads in T&T. It is also not meant to stroke men’s egos or pour accolades on father as being king of his castle.
Fathers struggle, fall, carry guilt, hurt, cry
My aim is that this article would motivate us as men to reflect on our relationships and reimagine how we can use our positions of influence to create change within our homes and communities, starting with our own lives then extending to the ones we love the most.
During my informal poll, I did not hear men describing themselves as “provider” and “protector”. Instead, they shared how important it was for them “to provide” and “to protect.” Words such as provider and protector are identity labels while “to provide” and “to protect” are performative action words. Indeed, when we love someone, we seek their best interest in all we do. But whenever we say and believe that men and fathers are providers and protectors, especially if so by nature, we construct inflexible definitions of what being a “real man” means, which have been proven to be problematic for men while offloading harsh consequences on women and children.
Being a provider is often associated with being the breadwinner and the idea that men must be the financial provider. This notion sustains the time-worn adage that “the woman’s place is in the home.” Or in other words, because a man’s role is to work, a woman should complement this by taking care of children and the home.
Data collected in 2018 by UN Women across 83 countries showed that globally the average time spent by men on childcare and household chores per day was one hour 41 minutes, while women spent four hours 19 minutes per day on those tasks. And this includes cases where women were also employed outside the home. Since the onset of the pandemic, available data from 38 countries overwhelmingly confirm that both women and men have increased the time spent on childcare and household chores, but women are still doing the lion’s share.
But we hold out hope. And as men express the joys of “playing”, “having fun,” “creating happiness,” “conversations” and “enjoying their company,” we see glimpses of “a new dimension of love.” Not one that confines men to traditional roles but instead frees men to enjoy the full range of human emotions with their children while equitably sharing the care at home.
Fatherhood is also an exercise of leadership. We hold positions of influence in our homes and in the hearts of our children. “Moulding”, “being responsible,” “helping them navigate life,” “giving support” and “supporting success” are some experiences that men said they cherish. Indeed “being a role model” was reiterated by several men, including my dear father. Reading between those words, you will find the essence of leadership and influence. But leadership does not happen within a vacuum, nor does fatherhood. Fatherhood happens within the context of the family. And we know that in our country, families come in all shapes and sizes. But regardless of the family structure, it is important that men establish and nurture relationships based on love and compassion. It is also important that men work towards relationships based on equality, mutual respect, shared decision making, and non-violence with the mothers of their children, whether together or separated. It is in so doing that we model for our children the respect for inherent dignity and worth of others, a value when laid upon the foundation of their heart will have ripple effects wherever they go.
One man said that fatherhood gives him “the opportunity to fix his mistakes.” We, who are fathers, know that the terrain is often unknown, fraught with obstacles and one mountain after the other. No one can deny the maze of challenges that fathers face. We struggle. We fall. We carry guilt. We hurt. We cry.
And while we accept that we can never change our past, we also embrace that every day is an opportunity to choose the man we want to become, confident that our investments in our children will change their lives and in turn change their world.
Happy Fathers’ Day!
Kevin Liverpool is the administrator of the Caribbean Male Action Network (CariMAN), a regional network of individuals and organisations working to transform masculinities and engage men and boys to promote gender equality and end violence against women and girls. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org