Father’s Day means many things for different men, and can come with associated feelings of love, connection, and caring; and sometimes, grief, loss and regret. Relationships Australia NSW Practice Specialist Andrew King explores the importance of fatherhood to many men, and how we can celebrate all forms of this relationship during COVID-19.
While Father’s Day can seem to have a very commercial focus, it remains a day of celebrating the most important relationships in men’s lives. Caring for the next generation is a key role for us men and is often associated with images of being both provider and protector.
A culture of not sharing
Among the many and varied descriptions of masculinity, the relationship that men have with their children is a very significant connection. This connection with close family relationships can be viewed as ‘the quiet place within’. It is a personal space that men rarely talk about; perhaps because it doesn’t seem sufficiently “masculine”, is too intimate or private to discuss. Sometimes they don’t have the words.
Often it is not until their children have grown up, or even when approaching the end of their life that men express regret for spending too much time at work, and not enough with their family. Sadly, many men only start talking about the importance of their family relationships after a crisis like family separation has occurred.
A revolution is underway
Australian men are becoming more vocal about their role in fathering, and the value they place on connection with family, particularly their children. What is occurring is a quiet men’s revolution. While not as vocal as the women’s movement, it is visible in the way men talk about achieving a better work-life balance, and how men behave differently as they walk together with their children, proudly push the pram, or access parental leave.
Many men acknowledge that they want to father differently from their own dads. The birth of a child is now a wake-up call for many men. It is an opportunity for them to review the choices they are making in life and provides the motivation to develop stronger relationships.
How has COVID-19 changed things?
Lockdown and work restrictions have enabled many dads to be around the home more than they might ever have been. Workplaces have suddenly been able to be flexible and unintentionally family friendly! This has enabled men to participate more in their children’s lives and the household generally, and for many this has been revolutionary in terms of what might be a better working arrangement going forward. They have been better able to be active and present in their fathering, and to experience being both wanted and needed by children and partners.
A recent Australian study provided evidence that while average childcare hours for both parents has increased during the pandemic for dual-income families, there has been a relative increase for average childcare hours for males compared to females (Craig & Churchill, 2020). This applies across both active care, in terms of interacting with children, and supervisory care categories. It indicates changes in the ways that fathers take a role in being present in their children’s lives, today.
This year, Father’s Day will be unique in terms of the restrictions it places on celebrations. For many separated dads, lockdown has meant difficulty seeing their children, and this might compound their sadness and isolation. If you are a father who is still working to re-establish contact due to COVID, it is important to prepare for the reunion with your children slowly, without having firm expectations of what will occur. It is useful to value the good things currently happening in your life. Be careful about making promises to your child or children or their mum that you may not be able to keep.
Many men, regardless of whether they are in a family relationship or are separated, identify fathering as something which is a central part of their life. It takes patience, thoughtfulness and conscious work to navigate the different life stages and developmental changes, and how they affect the fathering role.
How to celebrate Father’s Day during COVID.
If you have no physical contact with your children:
Consider creating a video they can watch now or in the future or write a card or letter they can keep. Talk about your love for them, how often you think of them, what it means to be their dad and what you wish for them. This is to reassure them of your connection, dedication and their importance. If there are reasons you can’t see them, work within those boundaries.
It is important for you to be able to show positive respect for their mother, as re-establishing your relationship with your child does not take place in isolation. It requires you to avoid or manage any negative communication and conflict that may arise. If you have a video call arranged on Father’s Day, maybe do something fun, like playing a card game on-line. Read a story with them or tell them about your day. Listen to what they say and respond without asking too many questions, except to draw out their conversation. Share stories about your childhood and the things you enjoyed at their age. If children don’t have to worry about any negative dynamics between their parents, they will feel freer to participate and to talk openly back. The best outcomes for children will occur when their parents are amicable and respectful.
If you have contact or live with your children: Although there are gradual changes, as noted in the research above, many men short-change themselves and their kids, due to the demands of other roles and the hope that brief time together will be sufficient. They also leave a lot of the emotional connection and social arrangements to their mothers; in effect consolidating that as the primary relationship with themselves an “add-on” to the family plans. Consider making your special relationship with your kids more of a priority. They need you far more than you realise, and maybe more than they show (if they are used to you being too busy). It offers great play time and nourishment for you too. These are important relationships that you will need and value well past the current job, home duties or other preoccupations. Invest in quality time now and extend it each day.
If safe to do so, then the great outdoors will be the best place to play with your kids. Go cycling or enjoy a bushwalk. Play a game of cricket in the park. Just hang out, talk with your children and be curious about who they are and what they value. Find things you all enjoy doing, which you all look forward to and want to do together. As your kids get older, they may have less time; make this quality time.
If you have contact or live with your children but cannot leave the house: Food is the one go-to survival plan during COVID. Make something special to eat with them or create something together. Follow their lead as they practice their own cooking skills in making something special for you. Try camping or a picnic in the backyard. Your time and attention is what children enjoy; watching a favourite show together, lingering over light conversation, colouring in together, playing board games, will all be very meaningful because they are about time with you. Contacting grandparents by videoconference and talking across the generations about being a kid and a dad, or how kids and parents have changed, can be a great way to acknowledge generations of fathering. If that isn’t possible, showing old photos and storytelling can amuse and engage children.
Think of how you would like your children to describe you to others– my dad is playful, fun, a good listener, caring, thoughtful – as you make memories that you can share forever.
What we can offer
Relationships Australia NSW offer casework, counselling and online or face-to-face workshops to support dads in strengthening their connection. You can find out more about them here.
If parenting has become fraught because conflict has got in the way and connection is damaged, or perhaps you are recovering from separation, or want to be a different dad, then getting some professional assistance can really help. Call Relationships Australia NSW on 1300364277.
For separated dads, find more guidance HERE.