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Alia Al Hazami: The blurred concept of fatherhood
October 10, 2017
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The role of a father is just as important as that of a mother’s, as they both play a crucial role in the development of the child. As such, focus needs to shift away from societal perception, and should be placed on the child’s wellbeing and happiness.
Exclusive to The Gulf Today

When examining the role of care keeping within a family, one instantly assumes that it is solely the mother’s responsibility. Inversely, the father’s job is assumed to be one of a financial nature, where the father takes the breadwinner’s role. To understand the dynamics of familial relationships, one must recognise the role of culture in shaping a man’s life. Gender roles prescribed by societies are a key factor in the lack of involvement of fathers in their children’s day-to-day lives.

The division of roles in parenting is attributed to biology, where women are said to naturally be caring, whereas men are naturally tough. However, one must not mistake pseudoscience for reality. This understanding is a product of society’s perception of gender roles through culture. Culture portrays women as weak and emotional, and men as strong and rational. For example, cultural products such as school books showcase extremely gendered stories. Such stories give women the role of nurturers, and men the role of adventurers. Similar gendered roles persisted through time, thus supporting the notion that it is not a man’s duty to care for his child.

There are historical roots to this understanding, which is the inception of patriarchy. Patriarchy is traced in plough culture, where the tasks between men and women were divided. Women were meant to reproduce, and men were meant to produce. Society conceptualised the role of women in the private sphere, the household, rarely making it into the public sphere, the public world. Thus, men were prescribed roles in the public sphere that put a financial burden on them.

In family history published in the 1970s, fathers are mostly described as figures that help in the process of procreation. Emphasis is put on their biological involvement, rather than their social involvement. The institution of marriage, which traditionally marks men’s maturity and economic independence, put men as heads of households. Many accounts of medieval and early modern Victorian history showcase that men considered fatherhood a part of the process of achieving full manhood. Fatherhood was mainly perceived as a way to keep the family line alive through the inception of little boys.

As illustrated above, no emphasis was put on physical care of the child. In fact, putting the words men and care together seemed absurd as the dominant understanding of masculinity expressed that being an involved father is related to paid work. Gender privilege gives fathers the resources to remove themselves out of the majority of the lives of their children, and give the necessary mobility needed to attain public status and recognition. However, men’s desire to be involved in their children’s lives cannot be eliminated. Unfortunately, their desires are faced with two main societal constrictions. Firstly, the ability to care is prescribed to women. As such, when men do attempt to tend to their children, they are often told they are incapable and useless. Secondly, taking care of a child clashes with the ideas of masculinity within a given society. Nevertheless, involved fathers have a great impact on the development of their children.

It has been recorded that paternal engagement has a strong effect on the infant’s cognitive functioning. It can also enhance the mother-infant relationship. The role of a father is just as important as that of a mother’s, as they both play a crucial role in the development of the child. As such, focus needs to shift away from societal perception, and should be placed on the child’s wellbeing and happiness. Parenting is a shared responsibility; therefore, society must stop painting a divided picture.

The author is the writer of “Alatash,” a columnist, and an International
Studies and English Literature student at AUS.
Twitter: @aliaalhazami

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