Stepping away from stereotypes

Castlegar News bi-weekly columnist examines how gender/parent roles have changed for the good

Growing up, I knew my place. You see, I am a female born in the 50s and back then the gender roles were well-defined – women took care of the house and children, while men were relegated to getting up every morning and going to work to help support those they loved.

Sure, there were families which were starting to veer away from the stereotyping. Many of those families stepped away from tradition due to necessity. My family was one of those. There were no Ward and June Cleaver in our house as mom was forced to work to help feed her five hungry and growing children. We weren’t a Leave It to Beaver family in any way, shape or form.

Our family was evolving, and I think it was a good thing. We children learned that it took a whole family working in concert to make a household run. There were chores to be done and we each knew what was expected of us. Mind you, even though we were breaking out of the mold the expectations for the male and female members of the family were quite defined and gender-oriented.

The girls helped with the cooking, cleaning and laundry, while the male counterparts took out the garbage and worked on the yard. Mom working out of the home was a start in the right direction (for us), but we still had a long way to go.

Unfortunately, for other families, they were still stuck in the patriarchal leaning of the day. I feel sorry for those families. The fathers would return home, dead tired from a full day of work and the commute back to family life and another sort of reality. The mothers were expected to have their children clean and well-behaved so dad could plunk back on his favourite chair and relax. He had little time, or energy for that matter, for children who hungered for his attention.

Some mothers, on the other hand, reached for mother’s little helper which would help her cope with the everyday stress and the added pressure of basically raising the children on her own.

Thank goodness times have changed. The other day I saw a father in the store with his daughter. Other than the fact that he looked just like a man, I would have sworn that he was the nurturing mother. His full attention was on his daughter and his words were carefully measured and fully in touch with his daughter’s needs for that moment and the needs of a young woman in the making.

I was touched by the closeness of the two and at the fact that, unlike the male generation before him, he was completely at ease in his role as a parent. You see, this man wasn’t an anomaly as he would have been 20 years prior when such an overt display of caring and affection from a man might have drawn a few side glances, and sometimes snickering, from other men. It just wasn’t the manly thing to do.

My admiration and respect for those men who step up and brush aside such archaic modes of thinking is immense. I can’t help but think that the world we live in, for the most part, is far better when it comes to casting aside such old-fashioned gender role definitions.

Today’s man knows parenting is a two-sided privilege and one of life’s most important gifts. He doesn’t feel diminished as a man nor does he believe that raising children is solely the woman’s job.

In my books that’s a true man.

To all the fathers out there who are doing the best you can, to all of you fathers out there who are hands-on parents, I salute you. You know your place and there isn’t a better place to be. Happy Fathers’ Day.