By Vannessa Gordon
We live in a predominantly matrifocal society that has adopted the idea (whether subconsciously or otherwise) that the role of a father is more-or-less to assist mom in raising the kids. The mother, who it is assumed will do whatever is needed to provide the best for her children, is the principal or primary parent while the father acts as deputy. In fact, it would appear as though in the minds of many, the father need only be summoned in the event that the mother ever does need him.
Our pathetically low expectations of fathers as a society, are passed down generation after generation and take root in the minds of our young boys, many of which, having been grown in households with indifferent and uncaring dads, one day become indifferent and uncaring fathers themselves.
It is therefore not surprising that this country places such little importance on fathers being afforded paternity leave. Why would fathers need to be allocated time off from work to bond with their children and to pull their fair share of the weight where taking care of the baby is concerned? That is, especially within a context where we see this ‘weight’ as being rather miniscule. What is unfortunate is that many fathers themselves help to put up the resistance to a systematic granting of these paternal rights.
Persons continue to rehash the idea that too many men will abuse their paternity leave. This issue is hardly ever raised in relation to mothers. The cycle of paternal negligence and indifference will only change when we start expecting better of our fathers. Additionally, it can never be right to deny someone of a right on the basis that they may abuse it. On the other hand, it is critical to note that research evidence highlights a strong correlation between paternity leave and father involvement.
The idea that a father should only have access to paternity leave if he lives with the mother is another notion that is very puzzling. A father isn’t excused from his responsibility to his child simply because he is not in a relationship with the child’s mother. The issue of whether or not the father and mother are ‘BFFs’ should never be used to obscure the father’s responsibility to make arrangements to spend time with his child. Parents must learn that when they welcome a child into the world, all other issues take the backseat, including any on-going grouse that the man has with his baby’s mother. Regardless of the type of relationship he has with the child’s mother, he is still a father and has not only a right but a duty to his child.
Fathers should not have to fight to play an involved role in their children’s lives. We complain that fathers are not doing enough as parents but yet we don’t try very hard to facilitate the removal of barricades, whether legal or cultural, that stand in the way of smooth and consistent paternal involvement. It is also critical to note that when fathers are afforded paternity leave, mothers benefit through increased support, both in taking care of the baby, as well as through support through the recovery process after delivery.
The Jamaican government should be mindful not to have this issue brushed under the rug, as it is one that is pivotal to the country’s social development. The granting of paternity leave will only help to send the long awaited signal that fathers play an equal role in the development of our children, as mothers do. Without this message being firmly conveyed, the culture of father absenteeism and negligence will likely remain with us for quite some time.
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