Something to think about. That was the subject line of an email I recently received from the father of a young boy with special needs. He was disappointed in the lack of resources, articles and websites intended for fathers and, specifically, for single fathers. Despite the growing number of single dads, he felt this group was still largely underrepresented online or otherwise.
Well, I did some digging, and I learned that this dad is right. Canada is currently home to more single-person households, more single dads and more same-sex parents than ever before. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, the number of children living with just dad is up 34.5% since 2001!
I was inspired by this dad’s willingness to open up and share his experiences of parenthood with me. What stayed with me most from our exchange was his comment that there is still some degree of shame associated with talking about our struggles, and how he felt that this was even more significant for men. And perhaps it is.
If we are to truly break free from the grasp of traditional gender roles, we need to change the messaging that is sent to our children - both our girls and our boys.
There is a shift happening in the way we raise our girls. Finally we are telling them that they can do anything and be anything – that they are not limited by traditional gender roles and values. But is the messaging we are sending our boys changing as quickly?
I think of my own son and how he loves to play daddy to his doll. I think about how he is free to express himself and all of his emotions in our home. Then I think about how a compassionate, feeling, doll-loving little boy is still not acceptable in a lot of households. This both saddens and enrages me. The little boy, who is told to stop crying, is sent the message that he must suppress his emotions, that expressing hurt or fear is something only girls are permitted to do. And the moment we scoff at the little boy who plays with dolls, we send the message that care giving is for girls not for boys, a message I do not want my son or daughter to receive.
After all it’s our little boys who will grow into daddies one day…and we want them to be the compassionate, caring, comfortable-in-their-own-skin kind of dads who will raise their kids to be the same. And that can only happen if we make space for our boys and men to freely express their emotions, their struggles and their fears.
So, to all the amazing dads I know and the ones I don’t - the husbands and partners, the single dads, the transgender dads, the stay-at-home dads, the dads who work full time outside of the home and the dads who work from home. To all the dads who show up for their children day in and day out and who love them beyond measure:
You are not alone…although you may feel like it sometimes because fatherhood is not yet written about to the same degree that motherhood is, nor talked about as openly. Let’s change that because no parent should feel like they have to go it alone.
As the subject line of this dad’s email suggests, I hope you too are left with something to think about…