NO one is ever prepared to become a parent. This is what I gather from my friends who have taken the plunge into fatherhood. Despite my own mistrust of their abilities, having been exposed to their shenanigans, their children, nevertheless, are growing up to be fine young boys and girls I can see.
I sometimes think that this can be attributed to the natural resilience of the young. No matter how messed up their fathers are, kids always rise above the limitation that is their parents. And it could also be that the more crucial task of child-rearing falls on the lap of their better halves. Women hold half the sky not to mention the dustpan, frying pan, and the other domestic demands of the household that ultimately serve the little prince and princesses of the home. But I am being unfair. I have never seen such dedication to family life that my friends display toward their own.
Maybe it is an indication of the shift in family beliefs and practices. At least for the educated middle class families, fathers now seem to assume bigger roles beyond the expected task of being economic providers for their families. They spend more time with their kids, are keen about their characters and habits, and are generally in tune with the emotional state of their children. They have no qualms about doing daddy duties while their own wives also earn their own keep.
Between our own experience growing up with our own fathers and the direct hands-on experience of the succeeding generations, one can say that there has been a shift in how father's imagine themselves and their roles nowadays. For sure, there is that ever closing in on the gap.
It is difficult to imagine my own father doing the things that my brother does with my nephew nowadays. A hunting trip to the farm might be one activity that my father and his generation would engage in with sons and these occasions would be few and far between. But I don't think I could ever imagine myself with my dad playing Playstation or watching youtube videos on a regular basis together in the same way that my father could not have imagined spending so much time and easy banter with his own dad a couple of generations ago.
There was a time when the father and son relationship was cloaked in so much mystery. It seemed that part of the work of being a father was to maintain this distance and aloofness that in turn generated deference and respect among the children. Apart from raising and providing for a family, it was understood that the father was involved in other, more important matters that had to do with greater, grander things. The patriarch was given space and the activities of the home revolved, not on the whims of children, but on giving service to the master of the household. The family played second fiddle to the desires and preferences of the man of the house who had other things to do apart from raising children.
But nowadays, the machismo in the household has toned down. And fathers assume more gender-fair dispositions. I believe this is less about the in-roads of equality between the sexes than about the changing economic relations of power within the household. As women fulfill a bigger share of the economic burden within the household, men are forced to surrender some of the usual entitlements.
But I suspect an even more interesting sociological shift may actually be at work here – one that goes beyond changing attitudes and roles of parents in a dynamic and fluid society. What accounts for the seeming feminization of fathering? Why have fathers become indistinguishable from mothers?
Could it be that there is no more horizon for greater and grander work outside of raising a family that is why the current tendency is to concentrate all energies of both men and women on the family on the most tangible evidence of a life's work which is that of raising children?
There is no more honorable job possible in a government run by crooks. The idea of nurturing a career in a company is no longer tenable with the mergers, redundancies, and contractualization taking place left and right. The local economy can only have a set number of hacienderos, shopping mall magnates, and utility barons and these are usually reserved for those with pedigree. What is a man to do in such a setting that stunts and kills ambition? Concentrate on one's family.
And yet, there remains a cultural lag in the appreciation of the changing contexts of fatherhood at present. When mothers leave their families to work abroad because not enough opportunities for decent work are available for men here, others call to question the fathering abilities of the men left behind. When fathers are retrenched, it becomes their fault because they were not good enough.
It is a difficult time to be a father in this day and age with the ever changing landscape of roles and expectations that one has to deal with. No one is good enough in the regime of capital.