Fathers don’t get much of a look in within traditional psychoanalysis. the giants on whose shoulders we stand, like Freud, Klein, Winnacott, were far more concerned with mothers. Fathers, when they were mentioned were vague, shadowy figures, often redolent with sexual threat. A reflection perhaps of the eras in which each wrote, or their own unresolved parental issues.
There may even be a reticence now to discuss the importance of fathers, as it tends to be organisations opposed to LGBTQ+ rights and single mums, the proponents of the “traditional family (whatever that is) who have captured that ground. Which is I believe, unfortunate, because it has closed down an important space to discuss masculinity, parenthood and family relationships?
Do families need fathers?
Since such a fuss has been made about LGBTQ+ people adopting, marrying, and raising families, a lot of research has been done on lesbian and gay families. In a way it is a pity it has even had to be done, but it does mean we have a lot of data on lesbian families (ones where we can definately say, there was no father). Of course some of these families may have involved the birth father, or had other male role model involvement, it isnt always easy to draw neat lines around family structures. Even accepting that in some of these families there may have been a father type figure, it is still safe to say the data shows, kids do fine where there is no male parent.
The data for single mothers is slightly more complex. Since they are more likely to be in poverty, some measures show children do worse, however, if we drill into that data, it becomes clear, its socio economic circumstances which matter.
Perhaps the most important point is not whether people can make a moral point about what they think a family should look like, but refocusing instead on what we know works best for raising happy, healthy children?
Father dear Father
Our attitudes to masculinity are tied up with our attitudes to fatherhood. There is a common joke of an adult child phoning home, and the Dad instantly assuming they must want to speak to their mother. Men/fathers are assumed to be distant, unemotional, good at the practical, unwilling to talk about their feelings. Just compare Mothers Day and Fathers Day cards, men/Fathers are not presented as people we are emotionally close to.
Some men are of course trying to challenge these ideas, often looking at their own relationship with their fathers, and saying, it doesn’t need to be that way. It is OK to talk about how you feel, to admit weakness, to teach your own children emotional literacy. Or, rather should I say it can be OK? You may still struggle with your own experiences of fatherhood. Some may hold resentment, or know they wish to be different, but not know exactly what different might look like. For most people, of whatever gender, their relationship with their own parents, and how that impacts on their adult life is not black and white. There will be things you struggle with, and things you embrace. Often the counselling space is where this unpicking happens, as people explore what different roles they have seen impact on their own lives.
It is Father’s Day in the UK. Like all such holidays it can be a day of mixed emotions, a day where many will struggle, either because of those they have lost, relationships broken down, or in some cases, fathers who hurt and abused. It is a good day to remember that it is OK to feel whatever you need to feel, even if you are not really sure what you feel. A way of moving beyond some of the stereotypes that have been so damaging to men is to accept emotions, whatever they are, are OK.