Episode 1: Fatherhood

Audio

Transcript

Roxy Etta
What was it like when you first found out that you were going to be a dad?

Dad 1
Really excited? Very excited. Yeah. Of course. Well, I started dating my girlfriend when I was 21. And she was pregnant. And so I kind of raised her daughter with her. So when I found out that she was pregnant with my son, I was really nervous. Scared.

Dad 2
I was young. I was with my girlfriend from fifteen to I had just turned 18 just about to graduate, high school, found out she was pregnant, and I was just nervous and scared, you know? Get ready for the real world. Still the school scared. I was still a boy. So I knew I had a lot of grown up to do and I had to do that real fast.

Dad 3
I say I wanted to be exciting, but I believe I was actually kind of scared as well. You’re nervous, because, I mean, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, at that time, I was still kind of in a way, depending on kind of quick, you gotta figure something out gotta know what you wanna do, you gotta start planning, you got very little time to see it takes a village to raise a child. So have you put together a village in 40 weeks,

no matter what to just be there, be there don’t don’t give up. It’s gonna be hard. Don’t give up don’t like, as long as you are there. That’s that that means the world that that means everything. You may not be able to do everything you want to do or that you need to do at that specific time. But it gets greater later you know, got to get a hold. Hold in there. Don’t just never abandon your responsibilities. Never. There’s gonna be hard but you may bend but don’t break.

Roxy Etta
Welcome to Anywhere Dad’s a podcast from University of Wisconsin Madison Extension with information and tips on how dad’s in jail can connect with their kids. This podcast combines the voices of dads in jail with experts in child development, parenting and incarceration. I’m your host Roxy Etta. Today on Anywhere Dads, we have Dr. Alvin Thomas as our guest who is an expert on fatherhood. In this episode, we will cover topics like why parenting is important, what unique contributions fathers bring to a family, what challenges dads face as well as successes. Dr. Thomas, thank you so much for being here. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Alvin Thomas
Hi. So I am Dr. Alvin Thomas as Roxy… Roxanne said, I am an assistant professor in the School of Human Ecology in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

Roxy Etta
Thanks, Dr. Thomas, we’re so excited to have you as our first guest. Can you tell us a little bit about your work as a researcher?

Alvin Thomas
I study positive youth development, especially for African American boys, African American youth. And one of the things that I found was really critical to understanding how how we can support positive youth development is understanding the role of the parents in being able to craft and provide space for that to happen. And you can’t discuss parents without discussing fathers.

Roxy Etta
Today, Dr. Thomas will be talking with me about fatherhood, specifically about the unique role that fathers play in their children’s lives. Dr. Thomas, can you tell us why fathers are important?

Alvin Thomas
When we often think of fathers, or when we think of parents, we think default as Mom as parent, and often did not think of the dad. I think we often when we do think of the dad, we think of the dad from the point of view of financial provision. And that’s that’s that’s becoming more and more an outdated mode of thinking as far as the role of fathers and I think they’re special roles that fathers play in the lives of kids and in the lives of families in the lives of their spouses that have gone under appreciated over the years and is now beginning to emerge as important and being seen as important.

Roxy Etta
So we know dads are important, but fatherhood presents challenges. Would you be able to tell us about some of the challenges of fatherhood?

Alvin Thomas
one of the main challenges to me of fatherhood is constantly running into this pseudo science, pseudo psychological viewpoint that fathers are not interested in engaging with the children and that fathers who don’t live in the home, non resident fathers are not interested and have abdicated their role. That’s kind of a narrative that’s been built, and has continued to be proliferated throughout, even even into the, the academy. It’s, it’s continued to be there. But the research is telling us that that is not true. If anything farther, men are beginning to more so than than ever define their own masculinity and their own identity, from the based on their ability to be part of their children’s lives, and to contribute really, in really positive ways in your children’s lives. And so trying to reshape that social construction of what it means to be a father is something that’s really challenging, not just for the researchers, but also for the fathers who are themselves living that experience of trying to be a father, against the backdrop of people saying, fathers should not be involved in this fathers should not have these conversations. No, it should be the mom who takes care of these things. The father should just be kind of these very prescribed rules for fathers and not allowing fathers to break out of those rules. I think that’s one of the main challenges.

Roxy Etta
Along with challenges, I’m sure that there are a lot of benefits in fatherhood as well. Could you tell us a little bit about the unique benefits of being a dad?

Alvin Thomas
So I think for from the point of view of the father, there are significant benefits. And selfishly, there are benefits to being engaged as a father, one, it reorients you beyond yourself to something bigger than yourself. And I think that’s one of the things, one of some of the anecdotal phrasees, but messages that we got from the fathers and sons project, that fathers were saying that, and I’m not going to use the exact words, but some of the some of the language was really it was colorful and wonderful. But fathers were saying, when everything around me did not seem to be going well, when I was facing these very challenging times, it helped me to be able to rethink that whatever challenges I was going through, that those were for the betterment of my child. So if things were hard at a job to be, I knew that I had to keep going, because I was one I was going to be setting an example for my child, to not give up when things get tough, but two I needed to keep this job to do the best for my kid.

Roxy Etta
Can you talk a little bit about co-parenting in partnership in regard to fatherhood? What unique roles can fathers play?

Alvin Thomas
And one of the one of the most I think, visible places for men or women, partnerships, is the family. And so what does what does the division of labor look like? What What does equality look like in society? We still working on that. But what does equality look like in the home? And should it be just that the mom does everything at home, all the domestic tasks, and dad just shows up with a with a paycheck at the end of the day, and sits back and watches watches TV father’s father knows best or one of these old TV sitcoms? And that I think a lot of men are saying no, I want to be involved. I do want to enjoy my kids. First. My kids first words, my kids first steps, I want to I want to be on the floor rolling up my kid, I want to change diapers as much as maybe some men may not want to change diapers, but I want to be involved in some of these very intimate things with my child. And I think more men, the research is suggesting more than ever, are more involved in the the child rearing and caregiving roles for their children, then they recognize or that they experienced with their own fathers. So we’re seeing from the men themselves. There’s that motivation, that desire to be involved to do some of this work.

Roxy Etta
You have any other specific takeaway messages or anything else that you would like to add that we didn’t cover today?

Alvin Thomas
I think for me, the main takeaway is for all dads to recognize that fathering and by extension, parenting is not a competition. I think the general social structure around parenting has made it seem as if it is a competition. So mom is competing to be supermom, rather than just being the mom, the best mom, you can be to your kids and forget all that other stuff. And the dad is competing to be parent, alongside mom. So no dad can never be like Mom, well, that doesn’t have to be like Mom, Dad is dad. And Mom is mom. And so to recognize that parenting is more of a dance, a tango than a competition. If two people are fighting in the middle of a tango, there’s no beauty to that dance. If two people recognize their role, and sometimes one leads and sometimes once another follows, recognizing that that’s a very simpatico kind of movement recognizing that parenting is a dance, not a competition.

Roxy Etta
Anywhere Dads is a product of the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension’s Human Development and Relationships Institute and was created by Anne Clarkson, Roxy Etta, Mary Huser, Maggie Kerr, Elizabeth Lexau, Kevin Murphy, and Ciara Walker-Morgan. Music composed, arranged and performed by Doug White, Madison, Wisconsin.

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