When I was a child, fathers were the ones who worked in important and responsible (and a bit mysterious) jobs – to feed the family, they were not to be disturbed when reading the paper or watching the news. Fathers drove the family car, organised hikes and represented the family in the world – whether that meant the bank, the travel agent or the neighbours. They were the ones who disciplined and who had the last word when important decisions were made. Fathers were not very present in the intimate sphere and when they were, it was in a slightly absent way…(reading the paper and watching the news or dealing with something else of mysterious importance – incomprehensible for a small child). Being a father was serious business. Fathers represented order, discipline and (sometimes daunting) authority.
Looking around my friends and colleagues, I realise that this father model is out. Totally out. What is in is the “new father”. My own partner and my daughter’s dad is a “new father”. Lucky me.
New fathers want to be fathers AND to have fun. They don’t want to be serious and distant. They don’t hesitate to change nappies, give bottles in the middle of the night, cuddle and spend hours on the floor with their kids reading kids’ books or building DUPLO farms… They take kids to the playground to give moms a bit of breathing space (and time to shave their legs). They cook and spoonfeed the baby, getting yoghurt spilled over their Hugo Boss suits. They take kids out biking, they take them to the swimming pool, they take them to school and pick them up again, they take days off (half-half with mom) when kids are sick and if it’s not their turn to babysit, they at least bring take-out sushi in the evening. They know how to put on baby pyjamas and how to brush and style their daughters’ hair. They can even sew carnaval and Halloween costumes on occasion.
Sometimes, the fact that my partner is a “new father” disturbs me. It does not fit with my experience of my own very loving, but still very busy and rather distant father. I am sometimes jealous of the attention and the affection he gets from my daughter (until recently, her generic word for parents was “daddy”). I sometimes feel that he should leave me to “mother” the child and he should be more the authoritarian, responsible man, dealing with “outside” logistics… I sometimes feel that by doing this he pushes me into the authoritarian role and I resent it. But then I find them curled on her big pillow with a book making animal noises, I wake up to him coming back to bed after having soothed her back to sleep after a nightmare or I observe her falling asleep on his shoulder in the evening and I realise how lucky she is.
She is learning that men can be both strong and gentle and that fun does not exclude respect and authority. She is learning that gender is not the determining factor in deciding who will do the dishes or drive the family on holiday. She is learning that children belong equally to the mother and the father and that sharing the daily burdens of keeping a house and raising a child is part of being a family. She is lucky, because she will not spend her life looking for someone to look up to, someone distant to admire, but she will be looking for a partner – an equal.
And I am lucky that I have a partner like him, who doesn’t assume that because I am a woman, I should deal with most of the less than glamorous baby stuff. I am lucky because he shares the night wake ups with me, even though he is tired, so I can get some sleep. I am lucky because he actually enjoys being with us for bedtime singing songs rather than going out. I am lucky because he knows what kind of father he wants to be.
What would my daughter say to conclude this thought?
“Daddy? Ah, you mean the magic shoulder that I sleep on? He’s warm, sings reasonably well and smells vaguely of cigars” says she with a big smile, before announcing loudly “caca”, patting her nappy looking meaningfully at her father and then running to the changing table in the bathroom…