Genival, a 36-year-old father from the community of Morro dos Prazeres in the city of Rio de Janeiro, pushed
the cultural norms of what a father should be and do in Brazil. His daughter Alicia is nine years old. In Brazil, the traditional role of men is to be the provider, not the caretaker. But Genival, through involvement in Promundo’s Program P, realized that he needs to establish strong communication with his wife and share in the care of their daughter. Genival defines being a father as wonderful, challenging and fulfilling. He realized that caring for a child
is not only good for the child, but for him as well. Genival always encourages Alicia to challenge things, and wishes for her to always ask the “whys” about life. He sees society is not equipped for fathers. He pointed out that male bathrooms do not have places to change diapers, and that men, throughout their upbringing, do not learn how to care for a child, and how to take care of their daughters’ hair. Genival said, “My favorite part of caring for my daughter is taking care of her hair. She likes how I take care of her hair.” Genival and his wife have been married for 16 years; they communicate very well, and both equally share in the care of Alicia.
Rami, a divorced father in Lebanon, with an eight-year-old son Jubran, realized that his role as a father was not what he thought it was to be. In Lebanon, fathers are expected to earn money for the family. They are not expected to take on the daily care of children. Rami and his family lived in Saudi Arabia. After his divorce, Jubran and his mother went back to Lebanon, while Rami remained in Saudi Arabia due to his job. Rami realized within a few months that he needed to be a part of his son’s life. So, he quit his job and moved back to Lebanon. For two years, Rami participated in many aspects of Jubran’s life – telling him bedtime stories, bathing him, cooking for him, washing Jubran’s clothes. During this time, they formed an incredible bond. Unfortunately, Rami struggled economically and needed to take a position overseas again. This time he moved to Dubai. Jubran could not deal with his father’s absence and showed signs of psychological distress. Rami said, “My son was sending me a powerful message, that I am much more than a needs provider, I’m his dad, and I have to remain present in his daily life”. Rami left his job in Dubai again, and came back to Lebanon, and worked for 10% of his income abroad. Now living nearby, Rami said: “Even if I get married again, I will always be part of these tiny details as putting him in bed, cooking for him, and cutting his nails.”
What do these fathers have in common? From Brazil to Lebanon, these fathers have seen the transformative role they play in their children’s lives. Parents are children’s first and most important teachers. Fathers in particular, have a special role to play in children’s development and wellbeing. A new systematic review of research focused on father- child play and its potential impact on young children’s (age 0-3) development found that fathers’ play, which most frequently focuses on physical play, such as rough and tumble, with their young children can positively contribute to children’s social, emotional and cognitive outcomes1. Yet, fathers can do more than rough and tumble play. We see from Genival and Rami, that fathers can positively impact their children’s and their own positive wellbeing even through simple things, which in many cultures is not the role of fathers, such as combing hair or cooking and bathing. Fathers can be role models for what men should be for their children and the relationship a father has with the children’s mother, can be a role model of what a loving relationship should be.
Along with mothers, the burden on fathers has been tremendous during the COVID-19 pandemic. School and day care closures have added strain to fathers and mothers who have to continue to work with the whole family at home. At the same time, there is a silver lining. Fathers are finding more time to spend with their children, and more of them are thus realizing the critical role they play in their children’s development and wellbeing.
Today, on Father’s Day, the Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN), Promundo and the Arab Network for Early Childhood (ANECD) would like to celebrate all the amazing fathers out there! We want to call on donors, policy makers, employers and implementers of programs to take action!
- Invest in parenting programs and campaigns that include and highlight the role of fathers.
- Invest in research focusing on fathers’ role in early childhood development in different contexts.
- Adopt family friendly practices at the workplace that includes support for fathers as well as mothers.
- Adopt paid paternity leave so fathers can bond with and care for their young children.
- Modify public bathrooms and other places so fathers can more easily care for their young children.
We have a long way to go to shift the world’s view on the role of fathers. Yet, there are other Genivals and Ramis around the world that prove that fathers, when given the chance, want to take more active roles in their children’s development and wellbeing.
This #FathersDay, dads all over the world are rising to the challenges of #COVID19 but also cherishing the chance to spend more quality time at home with their children. Each father’s love makes #EarlyMomentsMatter.
(Written by Sweta Shah)