Do Men Mother? Fathering, Care and Domestic Responsibility

In Recommended Reads by Dads for Life Resource Team

Unexpected Beginnings

To answer the question: “Do Men Mother?” Sociologist Andrea Doucet conducted a qualitative research over four years on 118 men in Canada who identified themselves (self-defined) as primary caregivers of their children.

She came to know more about these fathers’ experiences through their narratives, that is their stories about being men in a predominantly women’s arena.

As this was a study on whether men mother, Doucet did not expect that a majority of the fathers narratives would begin with remarks about the children’s mothers.

Each of my interviews with fathers began with the simple question, ‘How did you come to be in this situation of primary caregiver of your children?’

Many stay-at home fathers provided similar openings to their narratives. Gary, a stay-at-home father of three began with ‘How did I come to be a stay-at-home father? My wife owns her own business. She’s a hairdresser, and because I’m a carpenter I’m also very flexible with the hours. So, it worked out like this.’ (p216)

Separated and divorced fathers always began their narratives by describing a stark moment of rapture, most notably when their wives leave…Morgan, a joint-custody father of two commences his fathering story as follows: ‘Not to sound bitter or anything, but she left me for another man.’

Underlying Findings

There are two interesting findings that underlie these simple acts of men beginning their fathering narratives with mothers.

First, in marriages that have broken down, the fathers felt strong relational losses.

I (Doucet) asked them (single fathers in a focus group)…: ‘In an ideal world, what resources or supports would you like to see for single fathers?’…Steve, a sole custody father of four children…spoke first: ‘An ideal world would be one with a father and mother. We’d be lying if we pretended that wasn’t true. How can there be an ideal world without a mother for the children?’ Nods of agreement followed, along with murmurs of approval for Steve’s response. (p215)

…what these fathers exhibited in their quiet statements and nods of agreement was a strong sense of the connectedness of mothering and fathering and the relational deficits felt by men in the absence or loss of a significant relationship in their lives. (p216)

Second, “fathering takes on a ‘mother-led quality’ ” and “fathers rely profoundly on mothers to define their own fathering.” Fathering cannot be discussed apart from mothering as both are closely intertwined. (p216)

When men and mothers share responsibilities in caring for children, they are doing so in relation to each other. Caregiving does not take place in a vacuum. There is a context and circumstances that fathers respond to, resulting in them becoming primary caregivers.

For example, a separated or divorced father may need to take on more active fathering in the mother’s absence. And, another father may decide to take on the bulk of caregiving as his work hours are flexible whilst the mother is in full time employment or earns more working outside.

Uncovering Dad’s Style

Men view themselves as fathers, and their fathering practices and identities evolve in relation to those enacted by mothers. Thus, while it is not always clear what the essence of fathering is, what is certain for men is that it is not mothering. (p217)

When fathers take on responsibilities for children that look traditionally or predominantly held by mothers, it is done with a distinct ‘dad’ style. They are not mothering. Rather, they are re-inventing fathering.

For example, when taking on Emotional Responsibility (facilitating children’s growth), fathers’ nurturing often emphasise “fun, playfulness, physical activities, sports, the outdoors, practicality in emotional response, and the promotion of independence and risk taking in older children.” (p218)

And, fathers who take on Community Responsibility (facilitating children’s social growth) for their children are “devising their own strategies” or “developing their own parenting networks, through their involvement in children’s sports in community activities.”

Academic Rigour, Authentic Writing

Doucet who holds the Canada Research Chair in Gender Work and Care, is also a Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. She skilfully weaves facts with narratives, allowing readers to understand the research and hear the fathers in their own voice.

Doucet’s research on fatherhood began shortly after she gave birth to her first daughter and observed that mums were wary of her husband at an infant-parent playgroup in the United Kingdom in the early 1990s.

Herein lies the book’s greatest strength – Doucet’s scholarship and academic rigour are outstanding and she possesses a keen ability to assess theories and ideologies underlying arguments. She writes with such acute awareness –personally and professionally– that the reader is forced to take a closer look how his or her own concepts of fathering and masculinity came about.

This work won the 2007 Canadian Sociology Association’s John Porter Tradition of Excellence Book Prize.

Readers in Singapore will find resonance in Do Men Mother? As in most industrialised countries, families here struggle to “balance working and caregiving and the challenges of redistributing the caring work traditionally assumed by women.” (p13)

The concepts and issues covered in this book are particularly relevant for practitioners and policy makers as they push for more in-depth understanding of what influences programmes and resources.

The 118 in the sample included fathers with varied caregiving experiences:

  • 40 single fathers (25 sole custody, 12 joint custody, 3 widowers)
  • 53 stay-at-home fathers (at home for at least one year)
  • 13 single fathers who are/were at home
  • Four fathers on parental leave
  • Eight shared-caregiving fathers (who did not fit in category of stay-at-home fathers or single fathers)

There was also diversity in the fathers’ ethnicity, social class, income levels, education levels and sexuality. Some of the fathers in the study were immigrants. (p55)

She interviewed them in person (face-to-face), through telephone calls, in focus groups, or via an Internet survey from 1999 to 2002. In addition to the fathers, Doucet met with 14 couples in order to include some mothers’ (and couples’) views in the study.

Get hold of a copy of Do Men Mother? from Singapore’s Public Libraries.

Download Chapter 1: Studying Men, Mothering and Fathering

Catch DadLabs’ 2011 interview with Andrea Doucet on Youtube.

References:

  1. Doucet, A,, (2007) Do Men Mother? Fathering, Care and Domestic Responsibility, University of Toronto Press, Canada.
  2. AndreaDoucet.com, Bio, retrieved 24 Feb 2014
  3. AndreaDoucet.com, Do Men Mother?, retrieved 24 Feb 2014
  4. AndreaDoucet.com, Fathering, retrieved 24 Feb 2014

About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.