My Twitter feed today had a number of references to Heather Whitten’s photograph:
The same question was asked, following an article on the BBC website:
Is this picture disgusting or beautiful?
Frankly, I am not going to dignify such a question with an anwer. If anything, I’ll say that I object to putting ‘disgusting’ as the first of the options. Really? The first thing that comes to your mind, BBC Trending, is that a father holding his child tenderly is disgusting?! There is something seriously wrong with such suggestions. Indeed, one of the analysis of such views has been laid bare by Esmée Hanna. In a blog, she challenges both the notions that caregiving should be still seen as ‘women’s work’, as well as challenging the view that men cannot be seen as loving and caring.
But there more to be said here, so I would like to make a couple of points. First is about the stories I heard from fathers with mental illness. Their stories were so full of love, devotion, loyalty to their children. Except they also told me how much they didn’t deserve their children’s love, after all, they didn’t fulfil the dominant fatherhood model. They were not the strong knights forging along to another success. The only thing they did do, was to love their children.
The BBC article provides a context for such narratives. A tender father sitting with his child is, as one person is quoted put it, “a disgusting lack of boundaries”. And here you are – fathers who ‘only’ love their children, let alone show this love, are a problem. It’s a very sad state of affairs. A sad state of affairs which is reflected in the data mentioned by researchers in the short discussion under Esmée Hanna’s tweet.
The second point is related to a story. Some time ago I witness the following situation. In a shopping mall, a father with 3 young children (roughly, 6-year-old boy and two girls, 4 and 2 years old) was trying to negotiate an escalator. He was holding the youngest child on his arm, and instructed the eldest child to hold the 4-year-old child’s hand and go down. The boy indeed took the girl’s hand and stopped on the escalator, yet, the girl pulled her hand out of his, and decided to stay on top of the escalator. The father was in a stalemate. He was standing with his two children at the bottom and pleaded with the 4-year-old to take the escalator down, which she adamantly refused to do.
At the top of escalator people were gathering waiting for the girl to go down. Now, as Murphy’s law in full swing, the group of people consisted only of men, including me. We were all looking on (initially slightly amused, I must admit), as the father was getting more and more agitated and desperate and the little girl more and more upset. The stalemate continued as none of the men was going to help. Indeed, I suspect I was thinking exactly the same thing….In the end, I thought it was just completely silly. I pushed through, said to the girl something like: “Come on, hold my hand, we’ll go down together.”.
She gave me her hand and we stepped onto the escalator. As we were going down, I was thinking of only one thing: I was holding a little girl’s hand, I was not her father, potentially, I was in trouble. Fortunately, the father was probably way too grateful for my help to think about the fact I was holding his daughter’s hand.
I’ll leave the post here, in order that I won’t get emotional in my comments. I imagine not much more needs to be said, apart from that I am just sick and tired of the default suspicion and depriving fathers of opportunity to be close to their children. I really reject being the default male killer.