Why Mothers Can Never Be Fathers


Editor’s note: The Baby and Blog writing team shares a variety of views on the role of a father in the household. Here, our writer Didan expresses her view.

FD 2011

Yes! I’m a Daddy’s girl and I hope my daughter grows up to be a Daddy’s girl, too. The bond between a man and his child is the greatest form of empowerment and protection a child can have. I wear the features of my father’s face and have duplicated his strong personality, too. Since I learned to walk,  I was trailing him around the house and messing with his tools – wanting to do whatever he was doing. My Daddy and I would often stay up late watching movies and every Kung Fu movie would close out with the both of us play-fighting: fists flying and feet leaping through the air. He even took me to work with him, on a number of occasions. A man who is rarely at a loss for words,  he taught me the art of holding an engaging conversation; and I’m a fierce debater – my analytical and persuasive skills honed by many sessions of arguing topic after topic with him. From my earliest years, I could see how my Daddy was smitten with Mommy,  and how he seemed to dissolve into sorrow whenever they were separated for too long. These observations helped to formed my standards for love and defined my understanding of devotion. The invaluable and irreplaceable force that my father is in my life, cannot be described in any of the languages that I’m familiar with. I know, that being fathered is an unequalled experience,  that children yearn for and treasure; so I could never understand how any woman could consider herself a worthy substitute for her children’s Dad.

The Single Mother’s Misperception
In 1957,  Edith Clarke wrote the book “My Mother Who Fathered Me”,  based on her studies of West Indian family patterns. In the decades since it’s publication, the expression has been frequently used and widely accepted as a description of the struggles and accomplishments of many single mothers in our society. But, when asked to explain what is meant by this phrase: “a mother who fathers”, the usual response is, “she did everything – wash, cook, clean, house, clothe and feed us.” In essence,  such a mother was usually left to be the sole caregiver and provider for her children; and she often ended up bearing all the financial burdens of the household. But, it is rare, if ever at all, that you will hear this sash of honour being placed on a mother who received sufficient financial support from her child’s father. That’s because our society has led us to believe that the purpose of a father is to provide the tangible resources: food, shelter, clothing and material possessions, for their offspring. Unfortunately, many women have deliberately restricted the father of their children to the sole duty of making financial contributions – because they themselves did not experience an involved father and they imagine that the only thing they lacked in their childhood was that extra income. But,  money is definitely not all, because even though there are more women are in the workplace today, we seem to have more poverty,  juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, promiscuity, violence against women, child abuse and other social ills,  since the ‘nuclear’ family gained two incomes. Is it possible, that many women, who feel empowered by their ability to generate an income and feel affirmed by the champions of gender equality, have intentionally or unintentionally stifled the optimal development of their children? Have they ignored the indispensable role of their male co-parents and disregarded the intrinsic need a child has for a relationship with his/her father?

The Hats of an Involved Father
Research in various countries has shown that children who have a relationship with an involved male parent are smarter, more emotionally intelligent and have better social skills – among other things. They make better choices as adults and are less likely to suffer from mental health issues or addictions. But what exactly does a father do – beyond bringing home the dough and securing the home – to impact their children in such a significant way?

  • Provider – Dads often define their self-worth by their ability to give their children all the things they need and want. But, beyond the tangible resources like food and shelter, fathers also teach their children about responsibility, independence and resource management through the way they handle money and the family’s expenses.
  • Protector – From childproofing the home for a toddler and handling external threats to their safety to monitoring his teenager’s whereabouts and controlling the activities s/he gets involved with,  a father defends his children and guards them from harm. The sense of security he provides is larger than his physique and is felt even when he is not in his child’s presence.
  • Playmate – The high-energy, physical frolicking that Papa is known for, is rarely matched by Mama, since his wild romping usually pushes limits and involves lots of rough-and-tumble. These impromptu wrestling matches and launch-into-space tosses into the air are key to brain and muscle development. But, more importantly, these sessions of roughhousing teach children to manage their emotions, improve concentration and thinking skills.
  • Pilot – As head of the family (and the final authority), Daddy determines the family’s mission/priorities/focus and he guides his children based on his life principles. He doesn’t just lay down the law and enforce discipline; he is a role model,  who allows his children to learn about consequences and even acknowledges his own mistakes. A father helps his little ones with school work, but he also helps them to solve problems and make decisions through the various ages and stages of life.
  • Philosopher – Through daily conversation and time spent together, a Dad passes on a lot of life lessons to his children. He helps to shape the way the see the world – the way they love and the things they think are worth fighting for. He moulds their minds with both his words,  his silence and his actions. Using his reasoning, his morals and his conduct,  a father prepares his children for facing and managing the realities of life.

 
Fathers who co-parent effectively also have a healthy and positive relationship with the mother(s) of their child(ren) – even if they don’t live together and even if they’re not having a romantic relationship with each other. An involved father shows affection to and is considerate of his child’s mother. He assists with the responsibilities of childcare and housekeeping. He affirms his partner and appreciates the role she plays as a mother. He treats her with respect and never speaks negatively about her. An involved father models a healthy male-female relationship for his children as he interacts with their mother. His son will learn how to be kind to women and to honour them, while his daughter will learn how she is to be treated by a man. By the way a father relates to and interacts with his child’s mother,  he makes mothering a less hectic and a more joyful experience.

It’s important to note that a father doesn’t have to live with his child to be involved in an effective way. In fact, your child’s ‘father’ doesn’t even need to be the biological parent to fill the Daddy shoes – ask any adopted child. So, if your child’s biological father is not willing or able to fill the shoes of a father, the role may be played by other males your child relates to for e.g. uncles,  grandfathers,  step-fathers,  older cousins,  family friends,  teachers or mentors. The man who becomes the father-figure in your child’s life just needs to be committed to the relationship, emotionally attached and willing to invest himself in the nurturing and development of your child. But, even after looking at all the arguments, statistics and research data about the relevance of fathers, some mother’s will still want to cite single-mother success stories: children that came out of female-headed, single-parent homes, but made a name for themselves. However,  even those successes are often tied to the intervention of or inspiration from a father-figure in the lives of these young persons. Nonetheless, if a child can accomplish great things with an absentee father,  can you imagine what could have been achieved if the mother-father balance was not damaged?

Whether we are living with and loving our child’s father or we’re separated and settled on keeping it that way, there are steps we mothers can take to respect the role of fathering and to honour the involved fathers in our lives. To facilitate our children’s experience of being fathered, we will need to make the commitment to:

  • Share the domestic affairs and child-rearing responsibilities with our partners.
  • Set aside times for our child and his/her father to spend together.
  • Separate our marital and parental roles – some men are better fathers than lovers.
  • Solve problems and make decisions together,  since two heads are better than one.
  • See the documentary, “Biology of Dads” to understand why fathers are important.

  •  
    As we praise mothers for their endless sacrifice, let us also heartily acknowledge the priceless and essential contribution that the involved male parent makes to his child; because at the end of the day, parenting is not a competition but a collaboration. That’s why a mother can never father a child.

    Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

    Didan Ashanta

    About Didan Ashanta

    Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.


    • Baby and Blog

      This is a thought provoking piece for sure, and I want to thank you Didan for sharing your point of view.

      I think that a father’s involvement is critical to the development of children. My husband was raised without the involvement of his father and he will be the first to say that a woman cannot teach a boy how to be a man.

      But I do have two main concerns, though;

      1. This invalidates married lesbian couples who are raising children
      2. It kind of invalidates non-traditional setups where the woman is the primary breadwinner.

      I’m in a non-traditional setup where I’m the primary breadwinner, and frankly it’s a bit exhausting to deal with the constant skepticism and outright attacks. I have been accused of emasculating my husband so many times. And even encouraged to hedge my natural abilities of entrepreneurship so that my husband can “shine” more.

      Interestingly, I am a carbon copy of my mother — who at my age was ALSO out-earning her husband (it’s in the genes, lol). The difference is that my mom chose to put her career on the backburner so that my dad could have a traditional “leading” role. It’s a decision she regrets to this day. After 35 years of marriage, she sees that it was a wholly unnecessary decision.

      I’m glad that my son sees that I am the provider, and that my husband and I are co-pilots. I want him to understand that women can be capable and have leadership abilities — both within and outside of the home — and it doesn’t make them any less feminine.

      As the world changes, as more women get educated, we have to re-think traditional gender roles. Not everyone will fit into them — but it doesn’t mean that they cannot create healthy and loving families.

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      • http://didanashanta.com Didan Ashanta

        Hey Leila! Great points. I would quickly reiterate that father figures can fill in where the biological male parent is absent. But, being a father is not cut and dry about how much money you bring in or how the family makes decisions. Afrikan culture is predominantly matriarchal, so what you’ve going in your own family is not odd. But, chances are you could never hold your own the way you do now, without him having your back.

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        • Baby and Blog

          You are absolutely correct Didan! I definitely couldn’t do what I do if my husband wasn’t as supportive as he is. It means the world to me that he celebrates and supports who I am. I just wish that role — supporter — was as celebrated as provider. But again, I am speaking a bit out of the general frustration I feel with how society defines relationships. In any case, I am really glad that this piece is resonating with so many readers. It’s a very good read!

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      • Liz

        I hate to say it (only because I’m sure someone will call me “phobic” despite my lack of fear), but children NEED a male influence, and I am a FIRM believer that ALL lesbian/gay couples NEED to find a member of the opposite sex to help shape their child’s growth.

        I am a teacher for children under the age of 6, and prior to my husband also becoming a teacher to that age group, I never realized just how “shaped” a child’s life becomes, getting only female influence! It’s upsetting, because people fail to realize just how important a MAN is (or a woman if it’s 2 men) to a child’s development. The opposite sex offers what you could NEVER offer, because you are NOT of that sex, nor were you raised as it!

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        • http://didanashanta.com Didan Ashanta

          Thanks for reinforcing this point so well, Liz!

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    • Sherri

      Beautifully written! I agree that if not a biological father, then a father figure would definitely help a child grow in every aspect. I think the principles in your post are ones to strive for and at least provide a perspective for those who believe a woman/mother should do it all.

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      • http://didanashanta.com Didan Ashanta

        Thanks, Sherri. I’m glad that you are seeing my heart on the matter. No one can do it all, however we sort out the roles.

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    • Simone Sharrier

      Lovely article Didan! I especially endorse the point that parenting is not a competition but a collaboration.

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      • http://didanashanta.com Didan Ashanta

        Thanks, Simone! Sometimes we forget, don’t we? But, yes! It definitely is about collaboration – not a one-man show, at all.

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    • Alyssa

      I understand where this article is coming from, but I must also say that there is a significant amount of psychological research that shows that children from POSITIVE single-parent households develop normally & sometimes even better than children from two-parent households. I come from a Jamaican & Anguillan two-parent household & honestly, I applaud this article. But I do not agree with it. I’m biased because my experience with having a father was an extremely negative one & my mother becoming a single parent was the best thing to happen to me psychologically, academically, & socially. I’m thankful my mother played the role of two parents & I thrived because of it. But everyone is entitled to their opinions & I hope my children can grow up having a loving father similar to yours.

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      • http://didanashanta.com Didan Ashanta

        I’m glad to know that you have been able to look at the issue from different angles, Alyssa. I just hope your take away is NOT that children who have uninvolved fathers or unhealthy relationships with their fathers are ‘doomed’. I just hope this article will encourage mothers who currently think men are irrelevant to reconsider.

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    • Sunny Disposition

      Hello all, this was a very enjoyable thought provoking piece indeed. I do sometimes feel however that we don’t think of other types of families who don’t fit the traditional mold.

      I’m guessing I am alone in my thinking but even without a male care giver or influence I feel a child can have a well balanced and positive upbringing.

      I am not negating the importance of men at all, but rather than focus on the gender of the care giver I feel that the quality of the care giver is of paramount importance.

      Provider, protector, playmate, pilot, philosopher are all things mothers can be also. Forgive me if I have misunderstood and you believe this too. It’s just sometimes I get a little tired of our assigned gender roles and stereotypes. A child who is in a loving, caring home whether it be with a father figure or not will thrive. At least that’s what I believe.

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      • http://didanashanta.com Didan Ashanta

        Thanks for sharing those points, Sunny Disposition. It is very difficult to address EVERY family in any discussion. I can only speak to and about my own reality which is generation after generation of the mother-father-headed household. I’m sure there are MANY other writers who have heralded the positive results of alternative or non-traditional family structures. We all have a right to tell our stories. I just hope that more persons will realise that the praise of a good father is NEVER equivalent to the bashing of other parents.

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    • Sunny Disposition

      I’m 100% with you Alyssa.

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