This Friday on Al Jazeera’s global talk show South 2 North, Redi Tlhabi discusses the changing face of the modern father with South African artist Thembalakhe Shibase, Turkish educator Aydin Inal, and Danish psychologist Svend Aage Madsen, president of the Nordic Network on Men’s Health.
“Stupid, greedy, lazy and weak. This is how fathers are often portrayed in popular international TV shows such as Peppa Pig, The Simpsons and Shameless,” says Redi at the start of the show. “It may provide a cheap giggle for some. But to millions if not billions of hardworking, hands-on dads, it must feel like a slap in the face. Children who lack positive male role models may grow up thinking this is how dads behave. So what is the ‘real’ definition of the modern father? What are the pros and cons of different family models? And why are fathers so important?”
In South Africa, Thembalakhe says seven out of ten prospective fine arts students at his university have an absent father and that migrant labour – where men work away from their families – remains a challenge.
In Turkey, Aydin says Islamic culture in Turkey promotes community, which results in more present fathers. Fathers predominantly play more traditional roles there as the guardian and provider, although parents are now increasingly sharing domestic responsibilities.
In Iceland, Svend Aage says there are now three months parental leave for the mother and three months for the father, and three months they could share, allowing fathers to spend more time with their young children.
Svend Aage says the shift towards more involved fathers is a new development, which started in the 1980s when “births started taking place in the hospitals and men started attending the births of their children.”
He says, “A modern father is one who is taking care of his children, who is emotional with his children, who is engaged in all the aspects of his child’s life.”
Thembalakhe discusses his own experience of adjusting to becoming a father at 18 and criticizes the way masculinity is treated as a currency that men can lose if they play roles that are socially ascribed to women.
“Possibly that’s where the problem is,” he says. “We look at the distinction between man and woman from a biological point of view and then assume that these biological differences have any major sociological impact in how we are supposed to behave and conduct our lives. There is a clear distinction between the biological makeup of a human being and the sociological makeup of a human being. We are socialised to behave like men and behave like women. In the process of socialization, there’s usually an objective and often the objective – since we live in a very capitalist, patriarchal world – is privilege, the privileges that go with masculinity.”
Svend Aage points out that values are changing though. “It might be a privilege to be together with your children; that’s one of the new values coming up.”
Aydin agrees. “It’s the best thing in life to be raising a child and to see how the child develops.”