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Father knows best as single dads tackle the other glass ceiling

Dads' group members Don Crinson (left) with son Merlin and James Vincent with daughter Ashley.

Dads' group members Don Crinson (left) with son Merlin and James Vincent with daughter Ashley. Photo: James Boddington

CHARLES Areni was shopping alone in a city department store between Monday meetings when he realised he was being watched.

His three-year-old daughter Jacqueline was running low on underwear and he had stopped in to buy her a few more pairs.

Areni, a single father, looked over his shoulder as the security guard approached to ask what he was doing in the children's section.

''He asked me, 'Don't you have a job?', and I said, 'Yes I do! Is there a problem?' somewhat angrily as I became aware what was happening.''

Professor Areni says the security guard could not imagine a father would shop for his child's clothes; instead, he saw a pervert.

''Men in general are assumed to be depraved or likely to be foul in some way,'' the University of Sydney academic said. ''Being a good father, demonstrating the ability to love and nurture children, doesn't allow an escape from this sinister suspicion.''

Professor Areni and fellow scholar in behavioural sciences Stephen Holden are single fathers writing a book about their experiences.

The Other Glass Ceiling explores gender inequalities within families, arguing that it is not only women who face discrimination.

Fathers who want to be involved in child rearing are often relegated to the status of secondary parent by dominant mothers who want to make all the decisions.

Societal stereotypes assume men are likely to be incompetent parents at best and potentially dangerous at worst, the book argues.

It advocates for fathers to step up and take on more of the domestic workload, and for mothers to let go of their need to be in charge at home.

Professor Holden, father to 10-year-old Zachary, says research shows there are unique benefits for children who spend a lot of time with their dads, and that men have their own parenting skills.

However, fathers are portrayed as ''bumbling idiots'' in popular culture, including TV shows such as The Simpsons, Two and a Half Men and House Husbands.

Pressure on modern fathers is the subject of other research coming out of the University of Ballarat. The university's school of health sciences is surveying fathers with children aged under six years to determine how fatigue contributes to parenting stress.

Researcher Melissa Dunning says studies into fatigued parents have previously focused on mothers, particularly in the area of post-natal depression, with fathers largely ignored. But dads can become fatigued by a combination of interrupted sleep, long work hours and domestic responsibilities. ''Fatigue is different to tiredness because tiredness is easily relieved by sleep,'' Ms Dunning said. ''Fatigue is the feeling of persistent exhaustion … and is associated with impaired physical functioning.''

She is also researching the social support available to fathers and their attitudes about getting help, so that services can better aid their wellbeing.

Stay-at-home dad Ben Hillier, of North Fitzroy, says connecting with other dads in the same situation has helped with the challenges of being the primary carer of nine-month-old son Archer.

Mr Hillier attends a new parents' group of mostly mums, which is also helpful, but can feel awkward when women's issues are discussed. He recently joined a group of dads with children under five who meet once a week in their homes and parks in Melbourne's northern suburbs.

A boilermaker by trade, Mr Hillier has been unable to work because of a shoulder injury. He says the older generation are sometimes surprised by the role reversal.

''When I first started pushing the pram around I would feel a bit self-conscious passing a construction site with guys looking at me, but not any more. Just to be there and see every little development … not many dads get that opportunity.''

Further information about the survey can be found at tinyurl.com/fathers-wellbeing. The Other Glass Ceiling, by Darlington Press, will be published in mid-2013.

47 comments

  • Odd, isn't it? I go to the men's underwear section and I can hardly get a look in for all the women. I've always suspected that I would last about 15 seconds if I made a similar visit to the ladies undie section.

    Commenter
    Michel
    Date and time
    December 26, 2012, 12:18PM
    • Just try using one of the gender assigned change rooms - I once used the women's and when coming out I was challenged by the attendant - I explained that I had only seen the part of the sign that said "men" as I was blind in one eye.

      Commenter
      One-eyed Pirate Pete
      Location
      The Carribean
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 12:41PM
    • I thought of buying my wife a set of underwear for Xmas and ventured into a ladies clothing section. I had a good look around but then left quickly because some of the women there gave me some funny looks.

      I don't know why? I am in my late sixties and hardly looking like a pervert. besides it was not a children section.

      Besides there was nothing in that section that I hadn't seen before.

      I was young once too and have been married for 40 years..

      In the end i bought her aset of DVD's of an Australian film on the internet. No funny looks there.

      Commenter
      emerald
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 3:37PM
  • Just how many "dominant mothers" are there that won't allow their partners to have a say in child rearing please? Could you please state the facts instead of innuendo?

    Commenter
    Angela
    Location
    St Albans
    Date and time
    December 26, 2012, 12:28PM
    • You can count my ex-wife for one. To quote her verbatim, "I am the childrens' mother and therefore I know what's best." Hence one of the reasons why she is my ex-wife.

      Commenter
      The Watcher
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 2:22PM
    • Angela
      Why are you so quick to negate the experiences of the men in the authors study, and those posted today?
      What type of "facts"were you after?
      Do you think any / many bigotted women ( and men)are going to admit to their prejudices?

      Commenter
      LeftyRoy
      Location
      Cidnee
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 2:40PM
    • Every one of my female friends has always taken charge of the parenting, even when their husbands have wanted to participate (a rare occurrence I must admit, but still). So my statistics based on personal experience would be 100%.

      Commenter
      Mimi
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 2:43PM
    • Yeah, well my (now ex) did exactly that long before we parted. I was relegated to the post of 'sperm donor' - her words - but was expected to maintain our living standard and bring home the bacon without playing a role in my kids' lives. To describe her self-determined role as 'dominant' would be an understatement...she was physically and verbally abusive - her behaviour was destructive. Her nightly red wine and clinically diagnosed bi-polarity played a role for sure - and my kids were scared of her and confided in me. They're pretty much grown now and we always have some good laughs and good times. While I regret having married her - I would do anything for my kids including buy my daughter underwear if she needed it.
      My case might not be typical, but it was real and represented a difficult time for my children and myself.

      TS

      Commenter
      tom.storm.90
      Location
      Coolangatta
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 2:53PM
    • While I don't doubt there are some women who dominate the parenting role why do men have to make another stereotype about women? My ex-husband hardly showed any interest in his children especially after we broke up. He won't even come to his eldest daugher's wedding because he is too "busy". Do you hear me say that it is "common" for men not to have an interest in their children? I can't say that just from my own experience so put some facts up not just anecdotal evidence of a few instances. Thank you.

      Commenter
      Angela
      Location
      St Albans
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 3:36PM
    • I agree, Angela. From my own experience in working with gender equality for a number of years now, it is the pressure put on men by other men, who themselves have very stereotypical views of gender roles that is a problem - less so "dominant mothers". Mr Hillier, in the article himself said that he felt "self conscious pushing a pram near a building site - full of men who would look down at a stay at home dad. Take it from a working Mum - sharing responsibilities with my husband in rearing our son is a blessing - as most women would agree.

      Commenter
      Agree
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 3:38PM

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