It took me 45 minutes to trawl through my mostly unlabelled photo files to locate this photo of my youngest grandson and his dad. I wanted to ‘read’ it, to put words around the intimacy it imaged and the way I see today’s fathers.
I admire young dads. The ones I’m familiar with are very comfortable playing with their children and changing nappies, reading bedtime stories and handling toddler insubordination without the physical punishment of previous generations. Men then were probably no busier than fathers today, but they gave an impression of distance- a ‘Just you wait till your father comes home’ distance. Hugs were seen as unmanly and love a four letter word that was best left unspoken.
Much is expected of Australian fathers today. Parenting at its best is assumed to be a responsibility shared by a woman and a man. This involves lots of negotiation as decisions are made about matters such as how to appropriately handle toddler tantrums right through to door-slamming adolescent rebellion. A generation or two ago issues like how much time can be allotted to male sporting pursuits was a no-brainer. I might be reading this rose coloured glasses but it’s my belief that male parenting today seems more unselfish and in touch with the needs of children. Men are more willing to talk openly about the joys and struggles of family life.
Fathering has changed so much in my lifetime. I have known four generations of men who were fathers. I don’t remember having any expectations about how fathers should be or could be when I was growing up. My one and only grandfather believed that children should be seen and not heard. No grandfatherly hugs to be found there!
His son, my father, was just dad; he went to work, he drove the car, he barracked for Fitzroy, he paid for my Catholic education, went to Mass every Sunday and spent a lot of time protecting Australia from a supposed communist threat instead of trying to share some of the differing interests of his three sons. Neither my dad, nor later on my brothers, were as hands-on and loving as the young men who are today’s fathers. Previous generation fathering wasn’t always the kind of hands-on love that lingers in the memory.
When we are young we yearn for a father who thinks that we are the most wonderful person in the world, a father who always has time listen to our joys, our triumphs, our confusions, our heartbreaks. This ideal father would gently and persuasively shares his wisdom, hold us in a bear hug and send us back to our daily routines and commitments with a renewed strength and purpose.
Changes in society, the rise of feminism and the intermingling of cultures have all contributed to the way young men perceive parenting today. My father’s great grandchildren are growing up in an environment where their father is a loving centre and role model. It’s a more relaxed kind of fathering and it’s a great gift to their children.
So on Father’s Day when all you dads receive lovingly wrapped ‘men presents’, know and believe that it is in appreciation of the gift you are. Judith Lynch