In the run up to Fathers Day in the UK we seem to have a plethora of new initiatives being launched by the old guard in the field of fatherhood and family separation. Whilst F4J are hanging up their bat suits and launching a helpline and calling for a Minister for men and boys, Families need Fathers in England are launching a new charter. Meanwhile in Wales, Both Parents Matter AKA FNF Wales are flirting with Maypole women and wondering whether a joint application for funding to the DWP has any legs (no change there then). Much as it pains me to say it, it looks like business as usual for dads in distress in this run up to fathers day.
I have worked in this field for the past 23 years and this week I spent a bit of time looking back at the history of the way that fathers have been treated in the family justice system via an excellent not so potted history called An Exercise in Absolute Futility by Nick Langford, ex of F4J and careful and diligent curator of the history of the efforts to change family law in the UK. This book is an absolute eye opener and outlines for me the way in which the battles seen between mothers and fathers in the family courts, are mirrored almost perfectly by the parental rights groups set up to support them. Whilst it is, in my view, an absolute fact that without F4J there would have been no consciousness raising of what happens to many dads in the family justice system, I have always wondered why there have never been the same kind of sophisticated campaigns and lobby groups supporting dads as there are supporting mothers. From Gingerbread to Women’s Aid and all in between, the services, training, consciousness raising, campaigning, lobbying and downright overwhelming mighty force that emerged from the women’s movement, changed the face of family separation legislation, support services and public attitudes forever. Leaving dads blindsided and punch drunk when it came to understanding what had happened and why and in garnering a force to fight back. Whilst F4J took some big steps to raising from the collective unconscious the importance of fathers and FNF muddled by doing what it could in helping dads to cope with being battered black and blue by the ever increasing divorce and separation rate, what has been missing for so long now has been the same kind of joined up thinking, creativity and gritty determination which characterised the women’s movement when it began to consolidate the changes it had stirred into concrete action. Earlier this week I wrote about InsideMAN and the work being done to collectivise and amplify men’s voices for change, this is the natural next step in my view to generating the kind of movement which weaves a new way forward for men and their issues. A movement which both complements as well as challenges the monumental power of the women’s movement (which to my mind has lead to the fixed thinking that comes with not being challenged) and which creates for men, the opportunities, support and encouragement to change their own future.
This new approach is a far cry from the trojan horse narratives that are popular with some father’s groups. The kind of attitude which leads to unholy partnerships between FNF and Gingerbread but which lead nowhere other than the further empowerment of the women’s rights groups leaving the dads groups somewhat shafted and looking glum. The trojan horse idea, which I notice this week has turned into an assertion that one cannot change things by being on the sidelines, is based upon a notion that if the women’s groups know how nice the men’s groups and the men’s groups support the women’s groups, the women’s groups will automatically offer their support in return. Which would be funny if it were not selling an awful lot of dads down the river in the belief their interests are being fought for when in reality they are being sold to a women’s rights group who are fighting for the right of mothers to have primary care of their children. Sophisticated this argument is not, which is why, in my view, there has been forty plus years without very much changing at all.
But this is not an all out attack on the father’s rights movement, it is an observation of what will bring change and a fairer world for men and women as mothers and fathers and the children they bring into the world. In my view it will not be the flirting, the trojan horse narratives, it will not be the shades of change asked politely for by the feminist Fatherhood Institute and it will not even be, in my view, the launching of helplines and skype lines and chat rooms. The change will come when the revolution begins inside of the soul of men themselves, when the chains they have been bound by internally and externally, are thrown away and their faces are turned to the sunshine. Men are people who hold up half of the sky, they are indispensible, courageous, creative, wonderful, mysterious creatures who complement the lives of women and without whom children could not be born onto this planet (nope, I am sorry, no-one has yet achieved a spermless conception and the arguments about men not being necessary therefore won’t wash).
When men and boys understand the essential nature of their existence, when they understand that without them the world cannot turn, then we will see the changes that so many men over the past forty years or so have waited for for so long. Will it take a Minister for men and boys to help men connect to that? Will men be able to collectivise in ways that women were able to over the past four or five decades and when they do will they be able to bring to the fore the persuasive power that will overthrow the fixed thinking in the women’s movement? On whose terms will they do that and whose language will they speak when they do? These are all the things the future will bring if men come together in a combined force for change which does not sell their needs down the river but puts them firmly at the heart of a new contract between men and women. The current chains are, in my experience, internalised. And as a famous feminist once said, the revolution cannot happen until those internalised chains are discarded.
When they are, the hope for our world will shine through and we will take another big step forward in what it means to be human in relationship together.
Together, towards dignity, equality and the relationship between us.
Happy Father’s Day UK.