Father's Day 2009 is being celebrated with a renewed sense of vigour and excitement. Fathers and children are appearing in more advertisements. The media are running father-friendly stories. Restaurants are booked out for Father's Day as well as Mother's Day.
When the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation was formed in 2002 to help and encourage Australian dads, our television community service advertisements were initially threatened with a black ban by the Advertising Standards Board. Political correctness ruled the day and fathers were incorrect. This would not happen today. Fatherhood has become sexy, a newspaper here said recently. A quick squiz at pop culture supports this optimistic statement.
Take the 2003 film Finding Nemo. That was a story about a father fish looking for his son. Amazingly, it is well inside the top 20 grossing movies of all time. Just a bit further down that list are other popular movies with positive fatherhood themes: I am Sam, Dear Frankie, The Incredibles, Night at the Museum, Pursuit of Happyness, and the brilliant Australian movie with Eric Bana, Romulus My Father. Even Snoop Dogg is cashing in on the fatherhood revival with his Father Hood TV show.
Last night, with my wife, I watched Swing Vote, Kevin Costner’s popular film about a no-hoper dad whose vote determines an entire presidential election. Interestingly, the plot revolves around a single father and his daughter and treats him with a great deal of respect. This story could never have screened 20 years ago. Fatherhood is coming in from the cold — and not before time.
Here in Australia, songwriter Colin George put together a compilation CD called Fatherhood which features some of our best artists such as Paul Kelly, Shane Howard, Neil Murray and John Butler. They sing about their children, fatherhood and families. This album has morphed into an annual Fatherhood Festival in the surfing town of Byron Bay, which is better known for hardcore punk, drugs and yoga festivals. The home of Australian counterculture has become the home of fatherhood. The idea of a Fatherhood Festival has spread to several other cities in Australia. Similar events are happening in the US. "Family First" is the name of a minor political party in Australia, but the idea putting your family first is catching on. Just like the 60s counterculture, it could be the beginning of a revolution.
The renovation of fatherhood and the renewal of masculinity have been heralded by writers like Ed Cole, author of Maximised Manhood; Gordon Dalby, Healing the Masculine Soul; Robert Bly, Iron John; and Warren Farrell, Father and Child Reunion and even by feminist authors such as Adrienne Burgess, Fatherhood Reclaimed and Susan Falundi, Stiffed. Australian author Steve Biddulph has been a trailblazer for the Australian fatherhood and men's movement for many years. His books sell very smartly overseas as well.
The Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation believes that fatherlessness is a major contributor to the problems our children face. A leading expert, Dr Bruce Robinson, says that fatherlessness costs Australia A$13 billion a year. Similar estimates on the cost of fatherlessness in America by the National Fatherhood Initiative are well over US$100 billion per year. Fatherlessness increases the likelihood that children will grow up in poverty, increased crime, drug abuse, youth suicide, child sexual abuse, mental health problems, high levels of child obesity, poor health, poor nutrition and lower levels of educational performance for children. In spite of what radical feminists may say about the ills of patriarchy, involved and loving fathers are essential for the development of healthy children and strong families.
Last year Matthew Hayden, one of Australia's most famous cricketers, was pleased to go in to bat for Aussie dads and their children. He starred in our community service advertisements around Australia as the epitome of the renewal of Australian fatherhood. I asked Matthew how he felt when he had his first child and how he now feels as a father of three children.
There's nothing that replaces the moment of joy in your life when you have children. As a male I think you actually go through a bit of a chest beating stage. It's like, "Gees, I've produced this beautiful baby, I'm a man." It actually physically does change you as well because suddenly it's not just your wife and you. It's a very unselfish thing, you've now got this beautiful little individual and life, that you have to care and nurture and you become very selfless and that’s a difficult time in your life, but look, whatever you put into life, you get back ten-fold. With our three beautiful children, it’s just amazing how they give back to you in such simple but such rewarding ways. I wouldn’t change one damn thing.
Hayden's passion for his family is inspirational and it is men like him, all across Australia, America and around the world, who are arresting the harmful effects of fatherlessness by their love and commitment to their families. We need a fatherhood revolution which will create involved, committed and responsible fathers. Everyone benefits. A fatherhood revolution will bring support and joy to hardworking mothers and will help children lead exceptional lives.
Warwick Marsh and his wife Alison are the founders of Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation. They have five children and have been married for 33 years.