When Fathers Put Family First
Suzanne Braun Levine is the author of Father Courage: What Happens When Men Put Family First. We spoke to Suzanne about the obstacles men face -- including their wives -- when they are dedicated to raising their kids.
Q: Why is it important for dads to be more involved in their children's lives?
Parenting is so important! It's also meaningful and satisfying. I didn't meet one man who regretted for a minute that he struggled to take care of his children -- even the men who threw off their careers, who were under terrible pressure, who felt torn trying to find balance. The fact that they knew their child's favorite color, that their kids told them about their dreams, that their kids came running to them across a playing field made it all worthwhile.
And certainly in terms of marriage, someone who shares your commitment to each other as partners, as well as to the kids and to the public part of family life, is just that much more enriching. In the long run, these families will make themselves felt and society will be better for it. The society that's dedicated to money isn't as good or honorable as the one that's dedicated to families.
Q: What surprised you most during your research for Father Courage?
Like many women, I approached these men with my questions about caring for children and helping at home with a little skepticism. But the more I talked to men, the more I became convinced that they really want to make a difference in the lives of their children. I discovered:
Giving up status as the all-nurturing savior of the family who fix all boo-boos and can keep the family hearth warm is scary. It's a kind of glory that women are finding hard to share.
Q: Why does it take courage for men to be really involved in their kid's lives?
Right now, it's almost easier not to be involved -- to just be one of the guys. It's easier to give every ounce of energy to work. It's easier not to have children! There are alternatives that seem easier to push for than parenthood. And you're all alone as an involved dad. These guys feel like oddballs. They don't have a unified voice or any support--yet.
Q: Why are men having a hard time being public about their commitment to family?
Fear of losing out on the job. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair couldn't bring himself to take a week off for the birth of his child. And in many cases, paternity leaves are unpaid; having a baby is one of the times you can least afford to lose a paycheck.
In some countries that have attractive paternity leaves, men take it later when the kids are older. If it's not taken after the birth of a first child, the arrival of a sibling is a very important time to pay attention to the older sibling. When everyone is fussing over the new baby, fathers can take time out for their older child.
What are the biggest obstacles men have to overcome on their way to becoming more involved parents?
Finding a vocabulary to talk about family. Look at men's magazines; they cover virtually nothing about family life. Men are afraid of things they don't know how to do, particularly emotional things. They haven't been raised to deal with emotion or chaos, to trust one another. Women give other women so much support, wisdom, and information. Imagine being a parent without friends and family to get advice and comfort. Men need to begin to find and build their community.
When a new baby arrives, especially if Mom is nursing, men feel excluded. This is when both parents should make every effort to make sure they are both learning at the same speed, because even though he can't nurse, he can do everything else.
Since we learn by doing, Mom has to say to Dad, "Here, go do it." And babies are very hardy. They'll tell you if they're hungry or dirty or tired.
In past generations, there were so few experiences that both parents shared - and the more that happens, the better off we all are.
Q: How must women change to help men become more involved dads?
The first thing we have to do is begin to trust our husbands and partners. Then we need to let go of control. We can't continue to believe that if things don't happen our way that the whole world is going to fall apart. Sure he'll get the groceries, but she has to prepare the list; he won't put the stuff away her way, and that drives her crazy. Let him clean the kitchen the way he wants!
Men have a few things to learn too:
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