Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Who is a good father?

It's often assumed these days that the good father is the man who takes on part of the motherly role within a family, by changing nappies or feeding the baby or cooking meals.

There is little awareness of the important and distinctive role a man has as a father, separate from such tasks. Which is why I was struck by the following comment of Professor Richard Warshak, a child psychologist. Professor Warshak defends the role of men within the family by asking the following questions:

Is the primary caretaker the parent who does the most to foster a child's sense of security, the person to whom the child turns in time of stress - the role most often associated with mothers?

Or is it the parent who does the most to promote the child's ability to meet the demands of the world outside the family and to make independent judgments - the role most often associated with fathers? We really have no basis for preferring one contribution over the other. Both are necessary for healthy pyschological functioning

Well put! Mothers usually do more of the hands-on care of young children, and mother-love is vital to a child's self-esteem. But fathers do have an important role to play in successfully socialising children.

Most societies have recognised and encouraged this aspect of fatherhood. For instance, in a play of the early 1500s (Mandragola, 1518) part of the daily routine of the good father was that,

after dinner (he) talked to his son, gave him advice, helped him understand human nature, taught him how to live, in fact, with examples from past and present.

But our "gender neutral" society is oblivious to the responsibility of fathers to successfully socialise their children, despite the fact that it's a challenging task requiring an element of paternal wisdom.

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