The importance of supporting men through positive fatherhood
Ron Mitchell here again, Fatherhood Program Coordinator at White Ribbon Australia. I hope you enjoyed my last blog about modern dads. I really enjoyed writing it and sharing a bit about my life as a young dad.
My time at the Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory
I want to now talk about a different aspect of my life. My work life.
Prior to leaving Darwin in December 2017, I was the Program Manager at the Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory (MCNT) based in Darwin. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Australia’s top end as a practitioner and advocate in the multicultural sector.
For twelve years, I was committed to quality service provision and best practice project management. I worked with colleagues in Darwin’s collaborative community services sector to identify and address the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals and families within the Australian multicultural community.
I learned that resettlement is a multi-layered and long-term process and that recently-arrived migrant and refugee families continue to experience challenges with successful resettlement in Australia many years after arrival.
Migrant men and their challenges
From my time at the MCNT, I learned a lot about perceptions of masculinity and fatherhood from the experiences of recently-arrived migrant men settling in Australia. For many of the men I worked with, the resettlement experience was disempowering – particularly with long-term unemployment (when they expected to be the primary ‘breadwinners’), changing family dynamics (their wives gaining a sense of independence through receiving Centrelink benefits), and intergenerational conflict from their children becoming ‘Westernised’ and no longer respecting their authority.*
For many men being resettled, there was a clear division between the experiences in their home countries and their new experiences of Australian life. There was a constant tension between maintaining traditional cultural practices and parenting styles while adhering to the demands of a new society. I saw these issues create ongoing challenges for maintaining good relationships with their wives and children, often leading to alcohol abuse and even domestic violence.
As service providers in Darwin, my colleagues and I at MCNT were very concerned about the impacts of the resettlement process on migrant men and their families. So in November 2017, in partnership with my colleagues from the community services sector in Darwin and consultation with community leaders, I co-founded the first ever Multicultural Men’s Group in Darwin. The group explored many issues of concern for migrant men including the lack of information about living in Australia, competitiveness for employment, health and wellbeing, and respectful relationships within the family unit.
The entrenched patriarchy of society has reinforced the attitudes, behaviours and violence-supported social norms of male dominance and privilege. Not just for newly arrived migrants, but for all Australians born and raised.
I believe it’s so important that we, as a society, start building a positive vision of masculinity. I can see it starting to happen in the men around me. Many fathers are taking on more equal care-giving responsibilities and breaking down the gendered stereotypes that they have been told to traditionally follow.
The importance of fatherhood
It is estimated internationally that about 80% of men become biological fathers during their lifetimes.
The birth or adoption of a child is a milestone for men and provides an opportunity for men as fathers to review their lives and often generates the motivation to take greater responsibility, and develop stronger and more respectful relationships.
Supporting dads as they go on this journey of caregiving, and empowering them to reject the traditional roles or “boxes” that hold them back was one of the aims the Multicultural Men’s Group addressed. Now I’m proud to be part of White Ribbon’s Fatherhood Program, building on the aims and goals I first set out to address in the Northern Territory.
Fatherhood is truly a time of transformation that inspires men to adopt a caring masculinity and act as positive agents for social change. I’m so excited to see what the future holds for the dads of Australia.
Author Ron Mitchell is White Ribbon Australia’s Fatherhood Program Coordinator, a proud husband and father of two.
*I must openly state that there is ultimately no excuse for any form of men’s violence and abuse against women, and that the perceptions within this article relate to the experiences of some migrant men I encountered in Australia sharing their personal perceptions of their resettlement.