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It's time to normalize fatherhood

Published on: October 01, 2006

does it actually mean to "normalize" something? Usually, normalizing
involves becoming so accepted that it is a part of what we say, do or
think. Take the television. Once a novelty, it now exists in the vast
majority of American homes. In the same way, we must begin to normalize

That's not to say that it's not normal now to have a
father. But there isn't a universal definition for a father's role in
the life of his child. Boys are growing into men and becoming fathers
with entirely different ideas about their roles. Is it to be soft,
sensitive and nurturing? Is it to be demanding or aloof? Is today's
father any more in touch with the expectations of his role than his
father may have been? Does he even have any experience with a father of
his own or a significant man who played that role?

While these may be serious questions to some and trivial concerns to
others, the fact is that children need their fathers. Research has
shown that when a biological father is absent, children will grow into
people with voids in their lives. Maybe it will manifest itself in
different ways, but for the most part the girls will be sad and
heartbroken, the boys will be heartbroken and angry, and both boys and
girls will spend a good portion of their lives trying to figure out how
to fill the void.

That is not to say that children don't need their mothers; just that
they absolutely have to have both. Many people have said that men can't
mother and women can't father, no matter how hard we try to prove

So how does it change? Here's where it gets interesting.

First, men need to step up. Today's society should no longer tolerate
men not participating in more of the child-rearing responsibility. We
enable men to skate out of much of the work and consequently cheat them
out of a lot of the joy that typically leads to higher participation.
That's not to say that we aren't seeing a dramatic shift already, but
it should be less the exception and more the rule. Our expectations as
a society must change so that we view child-rearing in less
stereotypical roles.

Second, we need to let men step up. Faced with the stark reality of
overburdened mothering and underutilized fathering, society should
confront the bias that exists in early parenthood. I say early
parenthood because we recognize that children grow and develop, yet we
fail to appreciate that so do their parents.

We should address parental biases in stages. The biases are most
glaring in early childhood (and parenthood) and subside somewhat as the
children progress through the school-age years. Yet, just as with
children, those early years are the most critical to long-term welfare
for parents, too.

Bernie Dorsey is founder and coordinator of the Conscious Fathering Program --
-- which hosts infant-care classes for fathers at Puget Sound-area
hospitals, birthing centers and early parenthood education centers.

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