Fathers Are Invisible in Discussion of Child Care

December 25, 2005

Indiana Writers Group column for Dec. 28 and thereafter

574 words

by Dick McGowan

A recent series of articles in the Indianapolis Star provided a sampling of opinion from women and shows why our society will not soon have better balance between home life and working life.

The articles were written only by women. (Could the newspaper find no men who left a career to assume a larger family role?) One writer immediately invoked "sexist male sloth," another talked of "our" (women¹s) options, and the third used the word "women" but never the word "man."

None of the writers addressed the fact that public policy over the last 30 years has consistently induced women from the house and into the workforce while never bringing men into the household. Whatever its merits and flaws, affirmative action has had the cultural effect of bringing more women into the work-a-day world. What equivalent programs support men in assuming child-care responsibilities?

Our culture has not only discouraged men from adopting non-stereotypical and alternative roles as primary caretakers of children, it has sent messages to men that they are unneeded in any role.

We can begin with the abortion decision.  Again, regardless of the merits of arguments for and against abortion, the impact of current abortion policy excludes men. A Surgeon General of the United States stated that the abortion decision is "between the woman her God, and her doctor."  While campaigning for the presidency, John Kerry stated that the decision was between "the mother, her God and her doctor" (isn't the point of abortion to not to be a mother?).  

The potential father is treated as unimportant in the existence of the child. The history of child-custody decisions shows how fathers are looked upon by our society. And one of culture¹s main images of fathers is Homer Simpson, an inept parent.

Pick up any magazine with a variation of the word "parent" in its title; pictures of mothers outnumber pictures of fathers by about six to one. The articles are slanted to female parents, with such features as cosmetic advice. (Does Field and Stream offer beauty tips?) The Star's "Indiana Living" section in front of me has several photos of people as parents, all female.

Feminists, these days, are little help. When the modern women¹s movement started in the late 1960¹s, one demand was that fathers take more responsibility for children. That demand for cooperative parenting has become instead a strident pitch for reproductive freedom to the exclusion of fathers. The result is articles in praise of single mothering. In fact, one feminist argued that if a man cares for his children on a daily and routine basis, he is a mother no matter what his sex. To some feminists, it seems, being a good father is an emasculating experience.

When I dropped out of my career to raise our children, I experienced the way fathers are treated. I might attend a classroom to watch the children perform a play. Teachers said, "I would like to thank all the mothers who came to see their children today." When I volunteered for parent-teacher organization programs run, I was initially excluded because of my sex.  

The situation facing the caring father is changing. The articles in the Indianapolis Star did indeed point that out. Nonetheless, we can do better. One place to start is encouraging fathers to weigh in on parenting issues, including that of work-home balance.

Richard  J. McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is the father of three boys and former PTO president of Nora Elementary School in Indianapolis. Dr. McGowan teaches philosophy and religion at Butler University. Contact him at rmcgowan@inpolicy.org.


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