So I have been spending a lot of time on the web there are lots of pictures and videos of what the internet is calling 'modern fatherhood' or the 'modern dad'. A lot of it is inherently positive and I think it’s ace; stay at home dads, men taking an active role in the parenting of their children, this is obviously a good thing. And of course we have to bare in mind that I am not a parent (though I really look forward to my own Von Trap Family Singers, we’ll storm Carnegie Hall) and so everything that is coming out of my neurotic caffeine addled brain is just thoughts and ideas, nothing I would want to sew into a tea towel or tattoo on my thigh… but this is what I’m thinking about right now so I will continue and then cast it out into the internet.
They show hunky young men with babies in those baby holder things that look like shawls, or men in uniform having tea with their little girls dressed like princesses, or having their nails painted, or with their sons, playing boisterously, sat on small tricycles or covered in heaps of children in the park. These men are pictured doing things that traditionally a mother might do, or simply just doing feminine activities, like, to be a modern dad means actively questioning traditional ideas around masculinity. Alongside this is the idea of them being not only present but actively engaged, playing with the child, being silly and literally getting down on their level.
There are three things here it seems that makes up a celebrated, viral modern dad.
1. They are there. They are applauded for being in the child's life, coming home after work, playing with the child, or even just making the decision to parent the child in the first place.
My initial reaction was: “I think that is fucking ridiculous.” As in, surely it should be a given, it really bugged me. But perhaps I’m being unfair, perhaps because there are so many examples of single mothers, people being raised without present fathers, men conceiving children and legging it. It happens. Women do this too, don’t bother with the flames. But anyway, I’m having a really tough time with this one, there is also something niggling about how a father fundamentally cannot be everything, teach a child everything, be friend, counsellor, disciplinarian, ski instructor and sous chef. This guy probably has some other stuff going on in his life too, can he dedicate his everything, his all to raising his kid?
2. They play. They aren't sat in the corner with the paper and a pipe or watching TV. They are spending their spare time playing with their kids. Lego, sports, video games, dress up, vlogging.
I'm ok with that…. but there is something I want to address later on when I have finished writing up my notes with someone I met the other day who had a few good points on this, something about kidulthood, something about extended adolescence…
3. They reject traditional ideas around masculinity, embracing feminine activities, which could mean tea parties and nail painting, or it could mean, and this is confusing, being openly and publicly loving to or about their child e.g "dads aren't afraid to say 'I love you'". They boast about their kids, share the things they do with them on social media and generally make a fuss about being a dad.
One thing on this. These subversive behaviours and activities (the tea parties and nail painting) often tend to be restricted to fathers and daughters. There isn't so much of this behaviour with the boys, the boys get the rough and tumble playing. But their fathers seem to have more of a focus on being a strong male role model, and a fairly traditional one at that? There is a difference between male/female and masculine/feminine AND, this is probs pretty key here; children often tend to lead play (another thought from my new friend I will blog about next). So, perhaps if you asked these dads in tiaras if they would be up for a Frozen marathon with their sons they would be all for it, but maybe on the whole it just isn’t called for? I don’t know, I think the web can be massively reductive; there are good guys, bad guys and weird guys and not much scope for grey areas in your typical buzzfeed article. So perhaps my surfing only gets me so far. I know that I pull an idea out of the ether, put it to a real life person and 9 times out of 10 they are able to rationally challenge it. Which can only be a good thing.
Obviously this is just off the back of what I have found on the web. But here is another thought which I am chewing on. I found myself mocking these modern fathers. I think challenging gender stereotypes is a good thing, but why was my initial reaction that of perplexed amusement?
I realised that my own ideal dad, is actually, it turns out, something out of the 1950's. He is a bird-watching beard-touting reliable old sod who is staunchly proud and protective of his little girl. He is the father my own mother had, demanding chaperones for town bops and chasing the kids round the house with a belt. I am fully embracing an ideal where I am essentially the property of this man until it is time to be given away to another but not before a father daughter dance. And I mean WTF!? I am a proud feminist so why am I attracted to such an arcane trope? The best I can offer is that we tend to want what we didn’t have. I am comfortable in my feminism and have courage enough to admit that is flawed my by own context and I clearly have some shit to work on. I know that I don’t have the kind of father that my mother had and in this show I am going to try and make a new one. I think part of the fun of it is playing with these archetypes; picking and choosing from all these traits whacking them in a blender and seeing what comes out.
In the meantime the interviews are coming to an end, but I have more time scheduled with my own father, some studio time and I have a guitar. I have this idea which involves a guitar and I think I have bitten off more than I can chew.