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Ambassador Q&A: Andrew O’Keefe

Andrew O’Keefe OAM
July/August 2017

Presenter for the Channel Seven Network, Andrew O’Keefe OAM shares with us his experience and motivations in becoming a White Ribbon Ambassador.

How long have you been a White Ribbon Ambassador?

I have been an Ambassador since 2003.

In your view, how has society’s understanding of the role of fathers and fatherhood changed over the years?

I think that the role of dads used to be limited to generating income and administering discipline. Fathers weren’t expected to be involved intimately in the raising of their kids, and certainly not in their emotional nurturance. Dads were also seen as lords of their domain, whose word was authority and
whose every pleasure and comfort was to be provided.

What a sad world that must have been, for both kids and dads….how much love did dads miss out on? How many wonderful moments did they miss, how many opportunities to be more capable than they already were, how many aspects of the human emotional experience did they never taste?

Luckily, I think that Freud, feminism, the 60’s counterculture and the desire to lead authentic lives in a hugely hectic world have helped to change all that. Nowadays, we understand that being a ‘present’ parent is really important, not just for the well-being of our partners and kids, but for our own sense of belonging and emotional fulfillment. It turns out that fatherhood is not just a duty; it’s profoundly rewarding and a lot of fun…and the deeper in you dive, the more it becomes both of those things.

Plus you get to do Dad jokes. Q: Did you hear about the guy who invented Lifesavers? A: Apparently, he made a mint. (Plenty more where that came from!)

How has being a father shaped your understanding of gender equality?

Eleanor and I have two boys, Barney and Rory, and a girl Olive. Every single one of them has their own unique personality and their own distinct interests. Some of Olive’s hobbies and mannerisms may be considered ‘girlier’ than the lads, but then, Rory is passionate about dance and Barney loves cooking, both of which were considered a bit ‘girly’ for a boy 20 years ago. The point is, as a parent, you just take each child on their own merits. And on that approach, there’s absolutely no doubting that she’s every bit as capable and bright and cheeky as they are.

It horrifies me to think that my girl would ever be attacked or belittled or made to feel like she was not good enough by a man she loved, or by anyone. And it would horrify me just as much if either of my boys ever thought it was okay to treat women that way. Because I love them all equally, and because I see the unique spark and dignity in each of them, I want the world to love and know them that way too. I want my sons and my daughter to grow up in a world where they are equal, where their personalities are valued for their uniqueness, and where they are judged on the quality of their characters and the merit of their deeds.

Eleanor and I know that if we bring them up the right way, that’s exactly how our boys will be judged. But we also know that, in the world today, Olive will be judged on a whole range of other things too, no matter how capable or wonderful she is… things like, what she looks like in a pair of denim mini-shorts, or what she’s willing to do for her boyfriend in the bedroom, or whether she’s willing to put up with sexist comments at work, or accept a lesser pay packet, or ‘grow a pair of balls’ in the boardroom. And that double standard is plainly unjust, and it’s a double standard that is at the core of men’s entitlement and women’s inequality.

I want my beautiful daughter to have the same opportunities for success that my boys will take for granted. And I want her to be in the best possible kinds of relationships – those in which respect and dignity are shared. Which is also what I want for my boys. But none of that is possible in a world where men feel entitled to control women, or to dominate women, through any form of abuse or mistreatment. Oppression of any kind is incompatible with both equality and love.

What are the most important things fathers and father figures can do as role models to prevent violence against women?

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What you are shouts so loudly in my ears, I cannot hear what you say.” And I really believe that the example a father sets, about how to be a man and how to treat a woman, is the most important thing we can do to change the future on this issue.

My wife and I try to show our kids that men and women can be soft, and women and men can be the tough. We try to show them that both men and women can be strong, capable, and successful, as well as empathetic, nurturing and loving. We try to teach them that every single person deserves the opportunity to be all of those things, because that’s true equality, and because it offers them the best chance for real self-fulfillment.

One way we do this is by sharing equally all the responsibilities – the boring stuff, the hard stuff, the big stuff, the fun stuff, and the tender stuff. If we want kids who are emotionally available and capable in the world, we must show them that both men and women can do all those things. Of course, any two individuals will have different capabilities. I’m not a great cook or gardener, Eleanor’s not a tremendous car-washer or recycler. But we negotiate what works best to keep the whole machine turning and both of us sane. And we try to show our kids that negotiation, rather than argument, is the best way to make two people happy.

So, I do my fair share of the housework no matter how busy I get, I take an active role in managing and nurturing my kids rather than just being a good-time dad, and I try always to treat my partner with kindness and respect by valuing her contributions and making space for her interests. And of course, we always try to keep the disagreements civil. We don’t get it right all the time, but we certainly show the kids that they are the standards we expect of ourselves.

I think these really basic things can set a strong example of what respect and collaboration look like. And if we set that up as the norm, kids will grow to expect and give nothing less. It’s monkey see, monkey do.

We also try to show our kids that we value each of them the same. So, a good showing at gymnastics isjust as exciting as a win in the football. Little sister has as much right to play and lose on Mario Karts as big brother has to play and win on Skylander. A conversation about what the girls wore to book week has as much merit as a conversation about what the boys learnt in science. On the flipside, we make sure that Olive knows that she can’t get out of her familial responsibilities (or out of trouble!) merely by being cute and pretty.

Again, that’s all basic stuff. But I think that these subtle cues go a long way in undermining any male sense of entitlement the boys may have and in promoting the notion that we are all equal.

What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt since becoming a father?

  • That kids will love what you show them you love, be it books or football or music or fishing; and kids will love how you show them to love too.
  • That boys and girls are different in some ways from birth, but those differences should be a cause for celebration and admiration.
  • That as much as it’s important for boys to learn respect, it’s just as important for girls to expect respect.
  • That no matter how many times you might get things wrong as a parent, there’s always another opportunity to start getting things right.
  • That a sense of humour is like suspension on a car.
  • That compassion is the key to empathy; empathy is the key to love; and love is the key to every kind of peace.

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