The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Gideon Burrows Headshot

This Father's Day Let's Redefine the Meaning of 'Good Dad'

Posted: Updated:

When researching my book on shared parenting, I turned to the great research assistant in the sky for help and typed the phrase "equal parenting", and various permutations of it, into Google.

I was after academic papers on equal parenting, some statistics perhaps, definitely some first-hand stories of more involved fathers, along with some other persuasive books, articles and papers on men willingly doing a fairer share in the upbringing of their young children.

I found very little on what I was looking for. But I did find a lot about men in superhero costumes.

First on my search results came Fathers for Equal Rights, an American outfit centred on child-custody battles. Another contender was the Equal Parenting Alliance, all about men's access rights in case of divorce or separation.

Families Need Fathers is another such organisation that sprung up in my search, another custody-focussed organisation and support group for separated fathers.

And then there was Fathers4Justice: "the largest equal parenting campaign group in the world," as the website would have it.

Whatever the pros and cons of these organisations, their agenda, or their tactics, many of them couch their work in the language of shared and equal parenting.

But really they are about fathers' rights to see their children after relationship breakdown, not "equal parenting" in the sense of a child's right to a father who does his fair share of the parenting.

These organisations have taken ownership of the very idea of "equal parenting" to mean their own more narrow definition.

And they've been able to do that so effectively because there few co-ordinated or effective male voices calling for equal parenting to mean men doing a fairer share.

On the issue of men taking their share of the toddler and babycare: on the hard slog of the changing, and feeding, and burping, and cleaning up vomit; on the doing of daycare, the nursery run, the sick days and the doctor's appointments; on attending children's parties, shopping, washing and ironing for their children, and every other aspect of childcare that an equal father would participate in, most of these usually vociferous voices on parental equality fall strangely silent.

Where is Superman unfurling a 'Full Take-Up of Paternity Leave Now!' banner from the top of Big Ben? Or hurling leaflets at the House of Commons calling for men's legal right to part-time working so they can look after babies?

Why aren't Batman and Robin chaining themselves to the doors at the Institute of Directors, demanding a more considered hearing from employers on flexible working? Where is Captain America staging sit-ins in department stores because the babychange is always in the women's loo?

Given that couples who share childcare more equally are actually more likely to have happier relationships and are more likely to stay together, it's a wonder that kind of parental equality isn't higher up Superman's agenda.

However you feel about the father's rights movement, ahead of Father's Day this coming Sunday, it is finally time to echo the call by The Guardian's John Harris for a redefinition of masculinity.

We need a broader manifesto about what it ought to mean to be a dad in 21st Century Britain. This would complement - not contradict - the father's rights movement's aims.

This 'man manifesto' should start with what really is the issue in parenting equality: that men simply aren't doing their fair share, and that their failure to do so is resulting in a raw deal for the mothers of our children, the women we are supposed to love.

As the father's rights proponents will agree, research shows the active involvement of fathers from even the earliest hours of, and then throughout, our child's life results in better outcomes for our kids in the short- and long-term.

Right at the top of this new 'man manifesto' should be the demand for men to take a fairer share of the baby and toddler care, even if it means their own careers, interests and hobbies have to take a hit.

This is exactly what women have had to do since men went out hunting, and women stayed at home to clean the cave. We don't live in those pre-historic times any longer.

It doesn't mean fathers doing a bigger childcare role only to 'free up' the woman to go back to work. It means men wanting to, enjoying and actively pursuing childcare because to do so is good in itself.

At the same time, society's attitudes towards men who look after children need to change.

We need to get to a place where playing a fairer or even equal role in all aspects of childcare and childrearing is a conscious and respected choice for a father, not something foisted upon him by guilt, by women or by legislation.

This kind of change in our very assumptions about what men ought to do would help further the father's rights movement's agenda at the same time.

Then the sight of a man with a baby or toddler on a weekday wouldn't be some freakish exception. It would be just normal blokes, doing normal things that normal blokes do.

Everyday fathers, just being really good dads.

Gideon Burrows is the author of Men Can Do It! The real reason dads don't do childcare, available now.

Around the Web

Gifts for Dad | Gift ideas for Fathers Day 2013 | Asda Gifts

Fathers Day Cards-Hallmark Cards UK

When is Father's Day? 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2011, 2012?

Father's Day | Life and style | The Guardian

Father's Day

Father's Day gift ideas – in pictures

Father's Day Quotes: Words Of Wisdom About Being A Dad

Pop culture: Bill Granger's recipes for Father's Day

The 10 Best Father's Day gifts

Presented by Breast Cancer Campaign