I have always felt that our society is at a tipping point when it comes to the restoration of fatherhood in our society. Part of that is my innate tendency to optimism. For me the glass is always half full.
I can remember sharing as the conference organiser in the Main Committee Room of Parliament House at the very first National Strategic Conference on Fatherhood in 2003, saying very much in faith that what we were doing would become mainstream in Australian society in the years to come.
I said at the time there would be dozens of fatherhood groups forming, because a fatherless generation would awaken and begin to look for what had been missing for the last several decades.
I must be honest, not all of what I said has come to pass. We have had a 300% increase in fatherhood groups and websites. But I thought it would be more like 1,000% by now.
Having said that, what I didn’t foresee is the enormous interest in fatherhood through social media, particularly YouTube and TV.
YouTube has brought us viral fatherhood clips like the Get More Involved TV Ad with almost 10 million views, and Funniest Daddy and Baby Moments with almost 5 million views. Plus the more serious YouTube moments like “What Does it Mean to be a Dad” and “Jordan Peterson on Masculinity, Meaning, God and Fatherhood.”
I have lost count of the multiplication of fatherhood and parenting TV shows and documentaries, including past shows like the hugely popular ‘Find My Family’, which was one of the most popular shows on TV. The strong interest and promotion for fatherhood has come from television and film producers. This is amazing for more reasons than one.
What has really blown me away is what happened in the UK some years ago when BBC Four, one of the main BBC outlets, ran a whole season on fatherhood, during which they ran 12 different programmes on fatherhood.
Some of these were in a series like ‘A Century of Fatherhood’ and the ‘Biology of Dads’. Others were single programmes all held to the theme on fatherhood, which was extraordinary if you understand anything about the politics of the BBC, which is notoriously anti-male.
I remember the day my father died. I was suddenly aware that there was no ceiling above me, just the heavens, and I realised that I too would someday die.
Not the cheeriest start to your Father’s Day reading and it gets bleaker before (I promise) some sunshine. I then had to go to Germany to sort out a flat that my father kept in the small north Schleswig Holstein town where we grew up. I dreaded going.
But it was there between the tears that I began to feel better. Because, perhaps for the first time, I began see the father that this man really was. He had kept every payslip, every school report, every photo of his life and the lives of his family.
I saw that this detached, quite difficult and certainly non-hugging man was every bit a loving, concerned and conscientious father who had seen as paramount in his life the task of dutiful father.
BBC Four prides itself on attaching a new lens to familiar subject matter and stimulating viewers to reconsider that world through a different prism. Call it intelligent television entertainment.
So this season highlights the story of a revolution that hasn’t been celebrated enough. But it also recalibrates the story of fathers in what might seem a rather counter-intuitive way.
Contrary to popular myth fathers have always been involved, interested and caring about their families.
What attracted me to creating the season is how the 20th century has seen enormous changes in family life — the role of parents, the role of women and so forth — including mine (I am divorced and a single father).
But it has also seen an extraordinary change in the role of fathers. Or at least that’s what you’d think, reading the avalanche of magazine articles and opinion pieces that take a view on useless dads, absent dads and, more recently, new dads.
Judging by some newspaper yardsticks, dads are either too stupid to tie their own shoelaces or too awful to be let near children. Sometimes both.
Countering this view of cruel idiocy is also a sense that the modern father has finally come home, got in touch with his inner self and embraced his family, ending up walking off in the sunset, children in his arms, possibly weeping gently with the emotion of it all, but at long last a part of the family — and now no longer the ogre, the distance, cold authority figure that we all know is what they used to be before we discovered, wait for it, ourselves.
But according to producer Steve Humphries in his heartwarming three-part documentary series A Century of Fatherhood, that view is simply wrong. Fathers were always close to their families when they could be.
They were always striving to provide the best they could for their children. And they were approachable, generous men who were much loved — not feared — by their sons and daughters.
And perhaps the most radical idea Humphries proposes is that the cold detached Edwardian father is a myth, that fathers then were as committed to their duties as fathers as any other generation, and that they created loving and warm close personal attachments to their children.
Professor Joanna Burke comments in the program: “The image we have of fathers in the past is absolutely, totally wrong. If you actually look at dads in the past, the vast majority are loving, warm fathers.”
My observation is every generation has its share of imperfect fathers. The main challenge you and I face as father is not to repeat the mistakes of those who have gone before us. We can be different. We can rise to the occasion. We are not bound by history either way, and you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t believe it.
Yours for more warm loving fathers,