Monday, January 25, 2010

No boys allowed

I was at a conference on Friday put on by the Father Involvement Network of British Columbia. It was called “Focus on Fathering” and it brought together all sorts of professionals who work with Dads at many different levels. We had some terrific speakers and took part in some great discussions.

It was both inspiring and saddening.

I was inspired by the men and women who are dedicated to making families stronger, and doing everything in their power to help men be better, more involved fathers.

I was saddened that we even need such a conference. As one presenter put it, “can you imagine anyone holding a ‘Mother Involvement Conference?”

At first, it’s easy to default to the idea that uninvolved dads are alcoholic welfare bums, but that is wrong on two fundamental levels. Firstly, that assumption carries the subtext that we should just write off that portion of society that is mired in poverty and many of the complex problems that go with it. Secondly, it overlooks the fact that under the tragic umbrella of uninvolved dads, you will find doctors, lawyers, politicians, and businessmen earning 8 figure salaries.

At any rate, that night my wife told me a dear friend who is expecting was having a baby shower.

“When is it?” I asked.

"Next weekend, but you’re not invited.”

I’m not invited. The grandfather-to-be is not invited (though he’s expected to help make sandwiches) and the father is not invited.

Now, for all I know, maybe the dad doesn’t want to be there. I can imagine the conversation that happened might have involved the wife telling her husband her girlfriends wanted to throw a shower. Maybe he rolls his eyes and mumbles something about wanting to watch hockey, and she tells him he’s off the hook because it’s for the ladies only.

There is so much wrong with my little imagined scenario. Husband should have said, “Great, when is it so I can clear my calendar? Wife should have said to her girlfriends, “My husband is coming or we’re not having it.”

I seem to recall with our baby shower, me rolling my eyes and my wife flipping out on me for not wanting to go. Frankly, she was right to do so, and I am ashamed that I didn’t dive in willingly.

Perhaps I’m being over sensitive, but if we want men to be involved with their children, we can’t default to the old stereotypes. If we want men to be involved fathers, we need to invite them to be a part of every aspect of their child’s life. Not only do we need to invite them, we need to expect them.

As our keynote at the conference pointed out, we condition little boys to grow up to be good men and little girls to be good women. Why aren’t we teaching our children to be good people?

I will always say that men have to be responsible for their own actions when it comes to being a good father. But women and society as a whole can do their part to smash some damaging stereotypes which can automatically push the men to the outside.

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