Before I get too far into this article I would like to make it clear that I consider myself very much a modern woman. I make my own money, put up my own shelves (albeit with no-more nails but still up) and can't clean for toffee. But I am not sure I am comfortable with what becoming a modern woman has meant for modern men. In the rush to achieve equal rights for ourselves, have we forgotten to value the other half of the equality divide.
Let me expand. For those of you who have managed to escape the avalanche of cards, gifts and generalised tat pertaining to Fathers Day it happens this Sunday.
I would love to say that children all over the country are emptying piggy banks, potato printing cards and scrawling spidery "love you Dad" messages all over their creations. I was saddened to learn that in one area of society at least, that doesn't appear to be the case. In schools it seems celebrating Dad's is a thing of the past.
At my children's own, otherwise wonderful school, Mothers Day means card-making and an annual gift giving rally, where each child can stow away a beautifully wrapped gift. Come Fathers day, what happens? Nothing. Apparently, the reason for this is that someone at the school decided it was unfair to the children without fathers. I take issue with this for a number of reasons:
1. There are children without mothers - how must they feel at the annual orgy of mummy-worship?
2. Why is it ok to celebrate one sex and not the other? Surely by bowing down to the failings of a few, the wonderful fathers who do a great job are punished
3. What message does this send to an entire school of children about the importance of the role of a man in a child's life in comparison to that of a woman?
The court system also highlights this. A new law detailing children's rights has been introduced, but it is still evident that men rarely take custody of their children, being left with weekends and the occasional holiday. I cannot find the original article source to cite, but I read recently that as many as 80% lose more than the occasional contact with their child within three years.
Photo by Kirsty Lemare
Don't misunderstand me. I was a single parent and I loathe the lone-mother bashing stereotype. One parent filled with love can do a fabulous job - often better than two miserable ones more focussed on their terrible relationship then their kids. But when one half of the parenting mix is either marginalised, or choosing to step out so often, something is terribly wrong.
I believe that the media is contributing negatively to this 'down-grading' of the perception of male importance. In an article published by the Guardian, according to statistics.gov.uk, men end up 25% richer after a divorce and the whole article was about how awful and unfair this was for the women involved. I don't deny that struggling to make ends meet whilst your ex splashes the cash feels crap. On the flip side though if I only saw my kids once a week, no amount of spare cash would make me feel rich and nowhere in this piece was that addressed.
I know many, many single mothers who do truly incredible jobs raising gifted, high-achieving children but the evidence is strong that children without a father figure in their lives can sometimes struggle, both academically and emotionally. Sadly the evidence also suggests that the number of children living without a male figure is rising and I have to ask why? Have that many men have decided that the feminist revolution meant they could down tools and leave us to it entirely? And if they have how do we stop the rot before it takes hold completely?
What about male role models? Perhaps a great coach, teacher or family-member? Could they provide the answer to teaching children of the importance of men in their lives. Sadly, it isn't that easy. Men around children, or even working in traditionally 'female-orientated' roles are often viewed with suspicion.
Full disclosure criminal records checks have to be completed to even drive children not your own to school and anyone with even a hint of a youthful indiscretion is excluded. Do the mistakes you make as young people mean as a grown man you cannot be trusted around a child? Why should a good, adult man with wonderful skills and a wealth of life experience - including how to recover from making mistakes, not get to share those skills? Who misses out when they don't? The children so in need of male guidance.
I know my opinion will not be popular but I ask myself whether we really value the roles and attributes of men and fathers. Do we impart this value to our young men? As the mother of sons, it seems to me that the natural qualities of a 'man' (not all men just to be clear); of single mindedness, competitiveness, physicality, the willingness and want to work with their hands and take risks. These traits don't seem to be positively highlighted, encouraged or taught in schools and yet surely to create a balanced, 'equal' society we need them?
My own father taught me so much and he is far from the perfect man. A grafter all his life, he showed me how much a child values feeling heard but he himself struggled with emotional difficulties that a lesser woman then my mother may have considered not worthy to be around her daughters. Would I have benefited from not having my father in my life? Absolutely not. I love him because of his strengths and admire him his ability to come back from his issues and because of her attitude I learned tolerance and forgiveness at the knee of my mother.
My point is, being a bit rubbish at certain things, or flawed, or in possession of a difficult past, doesn't make men any less valuable to the children who love them and need them and more needs to be done to show young men how important it is that they recognise the value of themselves, to the children they conceive, preferably prior to the point of conception.
So this Fathers day let's make a real effort to make it special. If our children have been left high-and dry by a feckless father, take time to value the wonderful things our fathers, brothers, sons and friends bring to their lives instead.
If my other half is lucky I may even get out of bed before nine-thirty.