In a round tent on the beautiful grounds of Braziers Park, a group of over 25 dads (early 30s to late 50s) sat on hay bales and camping chairs—some with children in their laps—as we discussed men’s ability to be feminist parents.
We started off by establishing a shared understanding of feminism--defined as equal rights between men and women, creating balance, and including diversity. Then we broke off into small groups to discuss experiences of family. Everyone agreed that there are many different models and types of family.
One dad said, “Family is about balancing different strengths and weaknesses in a partnership while caring for others and taking responsibility.” While another group disagreed, adding that, “Our model of family that we discussed was not just a couple or a group of friends, and not just a relationship between two people—then that is a partnership, which is a different thing. A family is formed when you introduce different generations.”
The expected norm of two parents and two biological children was found to be challenging for those with different lived experiences such as families with two mums or two dads, adopted children, or step-parents.
At this point, a dad at the back of the group holding a child in his arms, said, “I’ve been part of my eldest son’s life since before he was born. I was there at his birth and I’ve been there ever since, but I’m not his biological father.” He felt this excluded him from the term “dad” and all the significance that comes with that word. He wished to have his parenting role validated by shifting to more general and inclusive terms such as “parent”.
But these dads were most concerned about being good role models. They wanted to show leadership in actively countering sexism, and providing their kids with an example of what it means to be a caring and nurturing man.
“I have two boys and sometimes they come home from school saying sexist things that they have learned while playing with their friends,” one dad said. “My job is to show them why those things are not ok.” This could feel like a lot of responsibility when society in general provides children with few examples of caring or nurturing male role models.
As a group, these men agreed that it was important to get the decisions right and set a good example at home. “All political choices are personal,” reflected one dad. “And power relationships at home are replicated outside the family.”
Although they recognised that this isn’t always easy. “There are a lot of inconsistencies in our behaviour as well. We can’t always live up to our ideals. Sometimes we act from our unconscious in ways that don’t necessary represent how we want to be.”
The determination and positivity of the dads who took part in this workshop was inspiring and it would be great to see these conversations continue. Please add your ideas and experiences in the comments and like our Facebook page to keep up to date as new information comes out.