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Opinion

Are you a modern dad?

By way of introduction, I’m Ron Mitchell the Fatherhood Program Coordinator within the Community Development & Engagement Team at White Ribbon Australia. As background, I am a happily married man and the proud father of two adult sons (born 21 months apart), who I like to believe are now fine men. To a large extent, my views of involved fatherhood were formed and evolved during the early 1990s when my sons were still infants.

Evolving definition

You might have seen our launch of our new Fatherhood Program over the weekend to celebrate Father’s Day 2018. Today I wanted to discuss the role of fathers and father-figures as I’ve seen and experienced during my time as a father and share an anecdote with you about an experience with one of my sons. I also invite you all reading this, to share your perspectives, experiences and anecdotes with us on social media. Use #whiteribbon #fatherhood to let us know your stories.

As we’re currently seeing in contemporary Australian society, the role of ‘father’, the concept of ‘family’, and the expression of masculinity and gender roles within families are becoming more socially diverse and broadly defined than in the past. The term ‘father’ now includes a range of males who function in a caregiver role for children.

In addition to biological fathers, there are adoptive fathers, foster fathers, stepfathers, and a range of relatives and friends who, as social fathers, play significant fathering roles in the lives of children. I think you’d agree that positive male role models in every form are essential in shaping the lives of young kids. That’s the remit of White Ribbon Australia and our new Fatherhood Program.

My story

By all accounts I was effectively a stay-at-home dad in the early 1990s, although I had not heard of the term at the time. I was at University undertaking studies towards a Bachelor’s Degree and I was the primary caregiver for our sons. My wife was working full-time to support my studies. My infant sons were enrolled in the University child care centre. I recall I took my sons to a playgroup a few times near where we lived. I was certainly the only man there at that time amongst all the other female caregivers. Somehow we fitted in okay, although it was still a social stigma at that time for a man to attend a playgroup.

I recall very well one time when I arrived at the child care centre. To my alarm I found my older son wheeling around a toy pram with dolly passengers.

I asked the educator, “What are you doing to my son?”

She replied, “One day he is going to be a father”.

Her comment really put me in my place.

Upon reflection, the child care centre was quite progressive for the time, and in their own way was normalising male caregiving for the children in their care. My son was probably modelling my own behaviour as a caring father.

I often wonder how many other dads have had experiences similar to mine. I think it’s a good time now for modern dads and social dads to celebrate special moments with the kids in their care. And to reflect on their impact on the small humans whose lives they help shape.

Author Ron Mitchell is White Ribbon Australia’s Fatherhood Program Coordinator, a proud husband and father of two.

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