In honour of White Ribbon Day, Canada’s national day of remembrance and action on violence against women, I’d like to highlight the role that nurturing, involved fathers can play in making society safer for women. Along with everything else we do in pursuit of that important goal, men need to do their part to make sure that our boys to grow up within a model of masculinity that includes men in caregiving roles. Children are exposed to countless examples of men as fighters, killers or take-charge agents of decisive action. That needs to be balanced – overbalanced really – by ensuring that boys also see lots of men, especially their own fathers, in caregiving roles: changing diapers, feeding babies in high chairs, wiping their chins, comforting crying kids, and “wearing” their babies in carriers. It’s also crucial that children observe their fathers treating their female partners respectfully, caring for them at times and working as equal partners in child care and other domestic work.
If a boy grows up seeing his dad, grandfathers, uncles, other kids’ fathers and male teachers doing the work of caregiving, the idea that men care for people will become embedded in his brain. When you care for children you have to pay attention to their needs. You’re constantly on the lookout to make sure they’re OK, and if they’re not you find ways to help them feel better. When you’re doing a good job, you get this instant feedback that tells you, “I helped a little, dependent person feel OK.” That mindset is totally antithetical to a model of masculinity that involves controlling or hurting women, or other men for that matter.
Fathers also need to take the lead in talking to boys about the importance of respecting women and having clear mutual consent for sexual activity. If the father who initiates those conversations has been a nurturing caregiver, the values and norms he instills in his sons will go even deeper.
We’re headed in the right direction. I see more fathers actively caring for kids than I did in the past. But I still think we have a ways to go before the role caregiver is embedded in mainstream masculinity.
Obviously there are other good reasons to be a hands-on nurturing father, and a respectful partner to the mother of your children. But on December 6, I think it’s important to think about the role that caring fathers can play in keeping future generations of women safe from violence.
Dad Central Ontario has many free resources to help men become caring dads and good partners including Involved Fathers: A Guide for Today’s Dad, and Dads! Renovate Your Relationship: 14 Tools to Help Fathers Stay Connected to Their Partners. These and other Dad Central booklets are available for free download. Hard copies also available for purchase. Find out more >