Often the biggest blockage to men as fathers, is mother. We hear women complain about absent or uninvolved fathers, but can get the impression they cause it just to complain. Thats because much gatekeeping is unconscious, and culturally supported.
A 1985 survey found that only 25% of married women endorse equal parenting, and almost 70% seem threatened by it. By 1992, Joseph Plecks Washington study still found that only 43% of even working mothers wanted their husband to have more to do with the children, and another study found that 82% of divorcing women seek sole custody.
Judith Walterstein, in Surviving the Breakup, reports that half of custodial mothers do not value the fathers involvement with their children, and one-quarter try to end it.
Gatekeeping is the presumption that only women should manage child care, often to the point of whether children have a father or who it is. Treating men as irrelevant or inherently incompetent nurtures (as though women knew it all by nature.) is a self-fulfilling wedge.
Growing up, boys are discouraged from learning child care skills; girls, the opposite. When faced with a wife who grabs their infant as soon as it cries, or criticizes the way he baths it, most men have little to fall back upon and take the hint to preserve their marriage. Then women brag (not complain) about their useless husbands.
Fathers, like mothers, become nurturing through daily care of their own children which permits a familiar, consistent presence in each others lives. Every parent discovers their own way of feeding, bathing, and everything else, given opportunity and encouragement.
But as Kyle Pruett explains in Fatherneed, when it comes to managing the nurturing domain, women cling to control to the point of micromanaging . . . to reassure themselves, and reaffirm their competence and essential goodness as mothers.
Gatekeeping serves the mothers needs, not the childs. It is confusion of the two. Children need fathers as much as mothers, and need them to be different. Children need multiple, independent attachments.
Gatekeeping is not limited to the home or mothers. It is feminist groups, politicians, and judges that oppose joint custody unless the mother agrees. It is the Houston Oilers fining a player for missing a game to be at his childs birth. It is William Sears who, in his fathering book, Becoming a Father, claims that men are clumsy with diapers and queasy with breast feeding. It is the divorce mediator who seeks to protect the mother, and the daycare worker or nurse who considers the fathers inquiries a nuisance.
All hurt when you are a man, making you feel like a nigger for trying to be a father.
Gatekeeping is in divorce practices predicated on a primary parent, thus creating one. It is child support which replaces a father with money, believing this takes care of children; its all that fathers are for. It is the judge who, when faced with research on father love, said, I dont buy it. Little girls belong with their mothers. I dont care how good a father he is, though the father had been the predominant caretaker all the childs life. It is Dear Abby advising a reader that, if she doesnt like the natural father, find some other male role model for your child.
Then society is alarmed by absent fathers, only to use it as another reason to treat them as second class.
Gatekeeping is a self-fulling pathology that must be rooted out. It is not love but possession. Rampant father absence is not fathers fault, but our own for not supporting and protecting fathers as much as we do mothers.
©2010 KC Wilson
To nourish children and raise them against odds is in any time, any place, more valuable than to fix bolts in cars or design nuclear weapons. - Marilyn French