If I could compel everyone to read something, I’d compel them to read this. -Male Matters
Dads were quieted by thousands of years of being selected based on their willingness to die on behalf of others, but not cry on behalf of themselves. Spies are taught to self-destruct before they self-reveal. All this makes for a pretty quiet revolution. A self-help book that reaches out to Dads often watches Dad commit suicide before he walks down the self-help aisle.
Only dads themselves can lead the charge to change this, but the process will be slow, because dads are usually selected by women who are choosing men who will earn enough income to create options for the woman, not for themselves. Men are reluctant to change what they think brings them love. Nevertheless women also want men’s love. So men’s first confrontation is learning more about how to love, so women will value men’s love more.
Men’s second barrier is comprehending why the industrial revolution led to many steps backward for fatherhood but has, nevertheless, laid the foundation for many steps forward. If we can find the steps …
The “Catch-22s” of the Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution meant that a dad who raised food on the farm could no longer raise his family as effectively as a dad who raised money in the city. On the farm, family and food were raised on the same soil. Industrialization meant that the family was raised in a house while the father raised money in a factory. For fathers, industrialization meant isolation from his family.
Industrialization created the “Father’s Catch-22″: a dad loving his children by being away from the love of his children. The better he “loved” them as a human doing, the worse he loved them as a human being. Fathers had always been human doings, but industrialization magnified the problem.
Marx identified the alienation from self and work that industrialization created. Practically speaking, though, it was much more an alienation of males from self and work than of women from self and work. And more of fathers than of mothers. In fact, it allowed women to become the nurturing specialists. And, because the larger the man’s family, the greater the alienation, the more children, the more alienation. Industrialization created the alienation of dads proportionate to the degree that they were dads!
The Industrial Revolution, then, took men’s occasional absence from home — previously needed only in wartime and for hunting — and made it the norm. This increasing division of labor magnified the division of men’s and women’s interests. It magnified the belief in the maternal instinct and the reality of the distant father. Prior to industrialization, divorces usually led to children living with dads. But not after.
“The Father’s Catch-22″ was compounded by “The Husband’s Catch-22.” Few women fell in love with aspiring househusbands. Even if the househusbands were reading Dr. spock. So a man learned early in life that a good career was a prerequisite for a good woman’s love. That had always been true, but industrialization now magnified the degree to which he needed to be away from a woman’s love in order to receive the love of a woman. Or, as a husband, he needed to be away from his wife’s love in order to be loved by a woman who would be his wife. Thus the “Husband’s Catch 22.”
Both Catch-22s delivered to men the same message: Receive love by being away from love. The Industrial Revolution accentuated both “Catch-22s” and thus deepened men’s unconscious fear of spending too much time with the people they loved for fear of ultimately losing their love.
The Industrial Revolution not only deprived the son of his father as a personal role model, but deprived the son of his father as a professional role model— he was no longer his dad’s apprentice. In contrast, daughters still had their moms as both personal and professional role models.
While the daughter experienced her mom’s teaching and her mom’s temperament, industrialization created two “Sons’ Catch-22s”: First, he experienced his mom’s teaching (“be neat” and “don’t play rough”) and temperament, but to find love, he needed to be more like his dad. Second, the more successful his dad, the more he should emulate him, but the less he saw of him. These are what I call “The Son’s Catch-22s.”
Children and wives began to blame the father for his absence. No one understood that Dad’s absence was his form of slavery, his commitment to providing the family’s “financial womb.” Had he been unwilling, his wife would never have selected him to begin with, and thus the children wouldn’t exist to register their complaints!
That’s the bad news. The good news is that industrialization began to sew the seeds to reduce the division of labor. Which would, in turn, begin to sow the seeds to bring the father back home. How? Industrialization produced enough appliances and conveniences to allow the woman to work outside the home, enough cost to need the woman to work outside the home. Thus industrialization initially reinforced the division of labor, and then created the conditions to reduce it.
However, before this created a father and child reunion, it led to our sons being deprived of yet a third role model: male elementary-school teachers. Prior to industrialization, the boy also had mostly male elementary-school teachers. But industrialization increasingly produced female elementary-school teachers. Why? Dad was still the primary breadwinner so Mom needed a work schedule to be compatible with the children’s school schedule
Industrialization’s good news for fatherhood is that it laid the foundation for technology, and technology is increasingly allowing the father to once again raise money and family “on the same soil.” Technology is creating the conditions for a father and child reunion. It allows for home offices on cheaper, more rural land, freeing him from paying the price of a home in the suburbs; freeing him from commuting in rush-hour traffic; freeing him from suits and, nowadays, from sexual-harassment lawsuits. Most of all, though, he has had decades to discover what happens to children when Dad is absent. Men, like women, respond to being needed. And now technology is allowing him to have the need for his love be under the same roof as the need for his productivity. Welcome to the Era of the Fatherhood Juggling Act!
The biggest barrier to helping men love will be expecting men’s money…
The Banker Barrier (or the “Daddy Track”)
“A father is a banker provided by nature.” – French Proverb
Nothing threatens a father’s involvement in the family more than his obligation to be the family’s “financial womb,” creating “The Father’s Catch-22″: loving the family by being away from the family. It is the irony of traditional fatherhood: being a father by not being a father.
Creating fatherhood means creating a major psychological shift. Both sexes find it’s difficult to fully share the psychological responsibility for the other sex’s traditional role –especially when the other sex is around. Just as mothers take on twenty-four-hours-a-day psychological responsibility for the childcare — even in homes in which the father is spending more hours with the children — fathers similarly still retain a twenty-four-hours-a-day psychological responsibility for the family’s “financial womb — even if the mother happens to be making more money at some given moment in time.
Even in Sweden, where men are offered paid paternity leaves of six months and media campaigns show sports heroes tending their young, only 22 percent of Swedish fathers take the leave, and their average leave is not six months, but forty-seven days. Why? Because even in Sweden, men know they will jeopardize their career advancement and therefore jeopardize their wife’s and children’s welfare (and therefore, possibly their wife’s love) if they go on the “Daddy Track.” It has become easier for Swedish men to take longer leaves because the government plays substitute husband so well for women in Sweden that women can afford to live with, and marry, men who earn less. Which is why the amount of leave time Swedish men have taken to be with their children doubled between the seventies and eighties.
In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, providing for up to twelve unpaid weeks off to care for a new baby or seriously ill family member, has been used by a half-million men and 1.4 million women. But for the most part, dads use accumulated sick days instead leave days. And overall, women are still 135 times more likely than men to leave the workplace for family reasons.
I hope this social backdrop allows fathers and mothers to see that we’ve all been caught in a system dictated initially not by the needs of men, or of women, but by both sexes’ needs to survive, and that more recently we’ve been caught in the transitions that have resulted from that system succeeding. Our desire to do more than survive included the desire for freedom to exercise options — from divorce to raising children without Dad. To give ourselves permission for that, we changed our image of father from “father knows best” to “father molests.” The same German colleague who sent me the cartoon above [Male Matters is unable to locate the cartoon.] also sent me another from Der Spiegel (roughly the German equivalent of Time magazine) in which the child says, “Mummy, please tell me something about Daddy,” and the mom replies, “No, no, dear! No horror stories before sleeping.”
This daddy-as-nightmare image is ubiquitous in industrialized countries, to such a degree that the only way we can now envision Dad with our children is if Mom is unable to be available. [This is reflected in movies, as explained in the Male Matters commentary “In movies, dads not treated as equals to moms.”]
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Warren Farrell, Ph.D. is the author of Father and Child Reunion. He is also the author of Why Men Are The Way They Are; Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say; and The Myth of Male Power.