Learning to be a dad’s the same as learning to be a man
There are 17 strangers in a training room. Over the course of eight hours, they’re repeatedly divided up by gender to brainstorm. At one point, the trainer makes a joke about turning testicles into a purse. It gets a laugh.
This is a parenting class I attended recently. Eight couples with nothing in common except their pregnancy and an assumption that it’s apparently OK to joke about castration.
Over at news.com.au, we’ve been looking at male identity in a post-GFC jobs market and a post-post-feminist household. We have found traditional “male” jobs in decline and what one expert called a “sex-segregated workforce” taking its toll on Aussie men.
We have also found an increasing number of men seeking help through mental health services and therapy sessions. But in a way, that’s the good news – at least men are finally prepared to talk.
The problem remains finding someone prepared to listen. One therapist told us she is seeing a growing crisis of confidence in some men, and a lack of respect towards them coming from women.
The main problem, as this therapist sees it, is a lack of proper role models for men. It’s an issue that’s been discussed before, but it’s timely for me because my wife is expecting our first child.
We’re told we’re having a girl. And that changed everything.
After years of thinking the pinnacle of masculine achievement would be to kick the winning goal in the Anzac Day match or tear through the English batting order at the Gabba Test, those benchmarks no longer seem to stack up. It’s not about the boys-own daydreams anymore.
It became clear that learning how to be a dad is essentially the same as learning how to be a man - and I find that even more important now knowing a little girl will grow up relying on me.
One of the ways I first reacted to the news was to *try* to get back to the gym, because a girl needs a strong father. (I’m not saying it’s working, but hopefully she appreciates the effort…)
Towards the end of a long, long day in that training room, the trainer gave one final piece of advice to dads-to-be on how to make themselves useful once their baby had arrived: “Learn how to use the microwave”.
The average age for first-time dads is now 33. According to the ABS, dads say they spend an hour and a half a day cooking and cleaning. They spend nearly four hours a day interacting with their children if you count time spent doing other things. (Whoever said we can’t multitask..?)
And those figures are from a 2006 study; these days it’s fair to say we know more about cooking and parenting than hitting “defrost” and hoping for the best.
It struck a chord with me because in my family, men have always cooked. And the examples set by my father and grandfather – in providing, in sacrificing, in living well and in adversity – now stand as the best lessons I could have.
And they are lessons I’m looking forward to passing on to my girl.
So if men really are struggling to find role models on the front pages, the social pages or the back pages, they could do worse than looking a little closer to home.
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