MEN ARE IN TROUBLE!
(Or do our boys get enough fathering?)
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MEN ARE IN TROUBLE!
(Or do our boys get enough fathering?)
Are Men In Trouble?
Steve Biddulph an Australian psychologist says that men are in trouble. The suicide
rate for teenage boys is high. Boys are more likely to be identified as having
behavioural problems in school. More boys than girls commit suicide in their teens.
Added to this, men are mentally healthier if they are married, whereas women are
mentally healthier if they are not.
Steve Biddulph suggests that this is because they have such poor relationships with
their fathers. He says research based on adult males shows:
30% men have no contact with their fathers
30% have hostile relationships
30% have „dutiful‟ relationships
Only 10% consider their father is their friend.
Steve also suggests that mothers define fathers in the following way:
Your father will be angry.
Your father is tired.
He believes this is because many boys never get to spend enough time with their
father to find out how men think and feel. Father‟s have often left home before their
children get up in the morning and don‟t return home until they are in bed.
Children are cared for by mothers or other women; most child-minders and teachers
are women; there are very few men around to provide male mentors for boys (or to
To change this pattern we need to encourage fathers and mothers to recognise the
importance of the father‟s role from the start.
Issues for Men in Pregnancy, Childbirth and Early Infancy
One way in which modern fathers may become attached to their baby before birth is
when they see scans of their baby in the womb.
Fathers often feel „brushed aside‟ by professionals and others, with the spoken or
unspoken message that birth and babies are „women‟s work‟. This encourages fathers
in their belief that they are not important in the early years.
As mother is caught up in maternal reverie and breast-feeding, fathers wonder about
their identity in the family. Are they lover and father or just the breadwinner? These
days it may not even be possible for him to claim that role.
New fathers find it very difficult to cope when their partners experience post-natal
depression. They are unlikely to realise what is happening to their partner or feel
inadequate in supporting her.
Many new fathers focus on their role as financial providers and put their energy into
their work role.
The changes in the father‟s life are usually less obvious than those for the mother.
Fathers feel unhappy but do not always realise why themselves.
Fathers may look to their own fathers for support at this time of their life and if the
relationship is good, become closer to them.
Often fathers feel they are not as important to their baby as the mother and often
professionals relate mainly to the mother and once the baby is born. Family and
friends tend to give all the attention to mother and baby and father‟s feel they are left
on the sidelines.
With the advent of the New Man, who is expected to take a full role in parenting, men
can get very confused about their roles – and maybe women do too.
Before the birth couples will talk about sharing the care of the baby. Often this idea is
not checked out in detail and there is confusion about whether this means they will
share each task; or whether it means mother will feed the baby and father will change
the nappies; father will bath the baby, mother will put him or her to bed.
Once the baby is born, parents will often find the practice is very different from what
they had expected – even if they had been clear about what they intended to happen.
Often mothers, but sometimes fathers will find that they want to do most things for
the baby, because they want the baby to see them as the most important parent, or
maybe so the baby will love them more. The couple can become competitive over the
One model that can work well in the early days is for the mother to do most of the
baby‟s personal care, while father supports the mother. For example in the first days
after the birth, father might protect mother and baby from too many visitors and
phone calls and continue the household chores. This can leave mother to attune to the
baby, establish feeding and begin to learn what the baby‟s distress means.
Father is still important, because his support of mother will mean mother is free to
concentrate on baby without un-necessary distractions. She can then help father attune
to their baby. This is a kind of cascade model of caring.
Here is what some Fathers Have to Say:
The roles were very clear, I was the breadwinner.
I felt very protective and saw myself as needing to provide financial stability and a
sense of continuity.
I was a bit older – in my early thirties – and so I was really ready to have children
and was terribly excited about the baby. I‟d done lots of interesting things and
amused myself and thought I was ready to take in the responsibility of parenthood.
But I do sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed.
I was thrilled when we became pregnant and very determined to share in the care
of the baby.
Having a baby concerns both men and women and the society. We do not have
our extended family here in the UK so we had to get through the process
supporting each other. We do not always agree with the professional advice, but
do not have confidence to follow our own instincts.
I think there is too much emphasis on the father‟s role during pregnancy and
labour. If and when I am needed, I like to be there, it all depends on what my
wife and children want. We share the chores as much as we can.
What Do We Need From Fathers?
Fathers according to Winnicott (1988 ),
„had a definite function before doctors and the welfare state, they not only felt
themselves the feelings of their women, and went through some of the agony,
but also they took part, warding off external and unpredictable impingements,
and enabling the mother to become preoccupied, to have but one concern, the
care of the baby that is there in her body or in her arms.‟
One father of a breast-fed baby said,
„I felt there was no way I could contribute practically. I used to worry that
when the baby cried it meant there wasn‟t enough milk but she (my wife)
would say that I was undermining her if I voiced my concern. I felt useless and
consequently just got on with my own things and had relatively little to do
with the baby.‟
And on the other side,
„I was in some ways quite relieved that I couldn‟t breast-feed. It meant I didn‟t
have all the responsibility for the baby‟s feeding. Tony happily did half the
feeds and I think he was really pleased to be able to spend that time with the
Susie Orbach (1994) says:
“the expectation now is that the father will not only be actively involved with
his children from or before birth, but is also expected to take an equal in
parenting with a relationship itself founded on equality. The pressures on
fathers to be more involved with their offspring continue to be exerted. It
would be difficult to state with certainty that things have changed much in the
last 50 years. In fact there is a great conflict present with the expectation of
shared parenting in the face of economic forces that propel men into the labour
market. The OPCS (Office of Public Census and Surveys) summaries of
national data in the 1990‟s show that men in the UK actually work longer
hours than their predecessors did ten years ago”.
How Can Fathers Improve the Situation?
Communication with your partner is the best way to make sure that your expectations
of yourself and each other are shared. It usually helps to talk about the way in which
you were both parented, what you liked and what you might want to do differently.
Try not to become defensive, if this happens it would be helpful to have one or two
counselling sessions together so that you have an objective referee.
Accept that it is a difficult time, but with respect, gratitude and appreciation of each
other you will learn and grow together.
Remember that although you may not find your role with your infant so easy when
you are not the one with him or her all day, once he or she is toddling, rough and
tumble games become more important and continue to be so with boys well into the
Overall fathers are responsible for high stimulation play, swinging and tossing
children (safely) and raising their excitement levels, but being aware when they have
had enough. Mothers are more usually responsible for the soothing role.
What Can Mothers Do to Help?
Firstly to make sure they do not collude to keep the father out. Be honest with
yourself. Recognise his important role as supporter and playmate for your child,
particularly towards the end of the first year.
Relate to your partner with respect, gratitude and appreciation. This provides a role
model for your child and encourages an atmosphere of respect and appreciation
throughout the family, as your child gets older.
Steve Biddulph says that if fathers or other adult male role models are not available to
boys when they reach puberty, they will learn from the boy down the road who is a
few years older. The problem is these mentors have also not learnt how to handle
drink and girls.
In the current climate in which the activities of child sexual abusers are emphasised,
we must make sure that boys are not cut off from substitute male role models such as
youth workers etc.
In the same way we must make sure that when parents separate and divorce that they
children keep in touch with the absent parents and do not loose touch without good
Recommended Further Reading
Biddulph, Steve (1997) Raising Boys.
Biddulph, Steve. () Mankind