By Marika Dobbin Reporter for The Age

For story on dad's group. Pic shows L-R  Dom Crinson swing son, merlin and james vincent swinging daughter ashley with ben hillier and clint greoger in background Pic by James Boddington

Dads’ group members Don Crinson (left) with son Merlin and James Vincent with daughter Ashley. Photo: James Boddington

CHARLES Areni was shopping alone in a city department store between Monday meetings when he realised he was being watched.

His three-year-old daughter Jacqueline was running low on underwear and he had stopped in to buy her a few more pairs.

Areni, a single father, looked over his shoulder as the security guard approached to ask what he was doing in the children’s section.

”He asked me, ‘Don’t you have a job?’, and I said, ‘Yes I do! Is there a problem?’ somewhat angrily as I became aware what was happening.”

Professor Areni says the security guard could not imagine a father would shop for his child’s clothes; instead, he saw a pervert.

”Men in general are assumed to be depraved or likely to be foul in some way,” the University of Sydney academic said. ”Being a good father, demonstrating the ability to love and nurture children, doesn’t allow an escape from this sinister suspicion.”

Professor Areni and fellow scholar in behavioural sciences Stephen Holden are single fathers writing a book about their experiences.

The Other Glass Ceiling explores gender inequalities within families, arguing that it is not only women who face discrimination.

Fathers who want to be involved in child rearing are often relegated to the status of secondary parent by dominant mothers who want to make all the decisions.

Societal stereotypes assume men are likely to be incompetent parents at best and potentially dangerous at worst, the book argues.

It advocates for fathers to step up and take on more of the domestic workload, and for mothers to let go of their need to be in charge at home.

Professor Holden, father to 10-year-old Zachary, says research shows there are unique benefits for children who spend a lot of time with their dads, and that men have their own parenting skills.

However, fathers are portrayed as ”bumbling idiots” in popular culture, including TV shows such as The Simpsons, Two and a Half Men and House Husbands.

Pressure on modern fathers is the subject of other research coming out of the University of Ballarat. The university’s school of health sciences is surveying fathers with children aged under six years to determine how fatigue contributes to parenting stress.

Researcher Melissa Dunning says studies into fatigued parents have previously focused on mothers, particularly in the area of post-natal depression, with fathers largely ignored. But dads can become fatigued by a combination of interrupted sleep, long work hours and domestic responsibilities. ”Fatigue is different to tiredness because tiredness is easily relieved by sleep,” Ms Dunning said. ”Fatigue is the feeling of persistent exhaustion … and is associated with impaired physical functioning.”

She is also researching the social support available to fathers and their attitudes about getting help, so that services can better aid their wellbeing.

Stay-at-home dad Ben Hillier, of North Fitzroy, says connecting with other dads in the same situation has helped with the challenges of being the primary carer of nine-month-old son Archer.

Mr Hillier attends a new parents’ group of mostly mums, which is also helpful, but can feel awkward when women’s issues are discussed. He recently joined a group of dads with children under five who meet once a week in their homes and parks in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

A boilermaker by trade, Mr Hillier has been unable to work because of a shoulder injury. He says the older generation are sometimes surprised by the role reversal.

”When I first started pushing the pram around I would feel a bit self-conscious passing a construction site with guys looking at me, but not any more. Just to be there and see every little development … not many dads get that opportunity.”

Further information about the survey can be found at The Other Glass Ceiling, by Darlington Press, will be published in mid-2013.

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  • Henry Tunks says:

    I know these stories, I was in my probationary year as a police officer when I was left to take care of my 1 year old Daughter, “M”. I was told repeatedly that I couldnt care for a baby girl because I was a man. I was told that I couldnt multitask, and that I was a male and wouldnt know what to do, many women appoached me stating ‘There are many women out there that would love to care for your Daughter, and you’. I wasnt aware that I was unable to raise my daughter as I had been doing so for the year prior whilst my wife at the time was dealing with the death of her father, a drinking problem and sadly a sexual assault by a soldier that destroyed our family.
    I remember walking M down the street in her pram, she would wave at people and I would point at the people who didnt bother to wave back and growl at the “Wave to the Baby!” I laugh looking back, my wife had crashed the car, so we went everywhere on foot. I only took sick days to care for M, I was put on report even though I had certificates by my boss, when I explained why, he said you are not a woman and you are a probationary constable, so you are lower than a Police Dog. He then explained to me that quote’ Your exwife has postnatal and will most probably kill your daughter, so you better quit.” I found resignation forms in my pigeon hole the next morning.
    My fellow officers told me often that a baby girl should be with her Mother and that I was a bastard for taking her, no one seemed to care that Mum didnt want her and that she had abandoned her, all compassion for Mum as she was going through hell. But that didnt change the fact that I was a bastard doing a brilliant job raising my daughter, which apperently wasnt something I was able to do, even though I was doing it.
    Being a Father is the coolest thing in the world, I realised this later after I was forced to quit the police. M looked at me one day and said “Being a daddy is better than being a Policeman, because we get to be together’.
    I have raised my Daughter by myself for the majority of her life, I have taught her to talk, read and write, to swim and to cook, to sing and to dance, I started ballet with her because I was told as a man I would not be able to take her to recitals, I figured that that wasnt acceptable. I have raised a brilliant human being, who questions everything, Ive taught her other languages, we play music, paint and draw together.
    Sadly I lost her in family law court, based on the premis that I am a man and can not raise a child. As a Police Officer I have seen blatant bias against men, I have seen men go through what I have, for many of them it was too much and they have taken their own lives to escape the pain.
    I have learnt in my life that people are capable of good and bad, love and hate, these things never have anything to do with gender, only with the person. Same goes for loving and raising a child.

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