It’s almost Father’s Day and many families are getting ready to celebrate the dads in their lives. Being a dad – like any parent – can be both wonderful and complicated. And while greeting card companies and advertisers would have us assume that dads aren’t much more than golfers and power tool owners, we know fatherhood is much more than that.
Sometimes our culture puts limits on what being a dad is or looks like. These limits hold dads – and all of us – back. So how do we create a world where we get rid of those limits and dads get to experience all the mess and joy that parenting comes with?
Here are five ways we can all challenge outdated ideas about fatherhood – every day.
Encourage workplaces to support men as parents
Being a dad is more than earning a pay packet.
But according to The Man Box, 56% of young men feel society tells them “Men should really be the ones to bring money home to provide for their families” (1). Only 1 in 20 Australian fathers take primary parental leave – a low number by global standards (2).
So what can workplaces do? Implement parental leave policies to support dads and all parents to be there at the beginning of their children’s lives. Offering flexible arrangements like remote working or different start and finish times can help parents to balance work with caring responsibilities.
Some dads work part-time, some raise kids full-time, and some need to finish their shift in time to make school pick-up. Whatever it looks like, we can support men as parents and carers in the places they work.
Recognise dads as caregivers
Being a dad is just that – being a parent.
But how often have we heard friends refer to dads as ‘babysitting’ their own children? How often does school or childcare skip over dad’s number when a sick little one needs to be picked up?
These attitudes reinforce the idea that it’s not men’s job to care for children. But most men who become parents want to be caring and loving dads – with all the responsibility that comes with it. And when you’re a dad who’s raising kids on your own, a dad who co-parents, or a dad raising kids with another dad – that responsibility is harder to avoid!
Being a dad means carrying the mental and physical load of kids, from getting dinner on and folding the laundry, to organising birthday parties. It’s time to shift our expectations of the work that dads do.
Embrace dads as emotionally connected parents
Dads can create safe and open spaces for their children to grow up. But men can still receive messages from society to be tough and unemotional parents.
The reality is dads just want their kids to grow up to be safe, equal and respected. That means raising their sons to know it’s okay for them to cry and their daughters to know it’s okay to be assertive. It means embracing their kids’ gender identity and sexuality. It means talking to their kids about consent. It’s role modelling respectful relationships with partners and other carers.
And because no one gets it right all the time – it’s expressing frustration and vulnerable emotions in healthy ways.
Build communities where dads can find connection and support
Becoming a parent is a powerful and life-changing experience. It can also be really, really hard.
And while there’s lots of content and community out there focussed on mums, dads can feel isolated from their role as parents. Talking about something that’s challenging and connecting to people going through the same thing is part of what helps us thrive.
Dads need to be able to lean on other parents and get into the real stuff – relationships, mental health, the best way to get vomit smell off a jumper – all of it. Whether that’s joining a local dad or parent group, or just chatting to mates about the 4 am feeding, let’s support dads to connect in meaningful ways.
Celebrate the diversity of fatherhood and male role models
There’s no prototype for being a father, so this Father’s Day let’s celebrate all kinds of dads. Dads who play footy and dads who bake. Dads who fix things and dads who play dress-ups. Dads who are kinship carers and dads who foster. Dads who adopt and dads who give birth – we love this project capturing soon-to-be trans dads. Grandads, stepdads, uncles, big brothers, cousins – and all the other men who help raise children.
It's not about what “being a dad” looks like – it’s about celebrating men who are respectful, caring and loving.
There’s no such thing as the “perfect dad” – not everyone parents the same way and that’s okay. The important thing is creating a culture where all dads can thrive. Because that’s the culture where everyone is safe, equal and respected.
(1) Jesuit Social Services - Fact sheet: About the Man Box
(2) Australian Institute of Family Studies - Fathers and parental leave