On Wednesday, November 29th, the Institute for Research on Poverty hosted a webinar entitled “Supporting Engaged Fatherhood and Family Wellbeing: The Role of Policy from the Community Level to the Federal Level.” They brought together four presenters to talk about the role of fathers in the family unit and some of the barriers those fathers are faced with when trying to participate in family life.

Dr. Tova Walsh, a professor at the Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, served as the moderator of the discussion, and opened the webinar by giving an overview of the topics to be covered. Dr. Walsh encouraged attendees to look at this as a gender equity issue. Many fathers face both individual and structural barriers to being as fully involved in their children’s lives as they would like to be. Research shows that mothers and fathers both want dads to be involved in pregnancy and prenatal care, as well as postpartum life. Being included is meaningful to fathers, who want to be recognized in their dual role as both a parent and a partner in those spaces. Public and private family programs need to do a better job of including fathers, as they have historically catered to the needs of mothers and children. It is imperative that society assess the needs of fathers, both individually and within their families, and work to meet them, supporting fathers to be “a presence, not just a provider”. Dads’ time with their children has tripled since 1965, and the data shows how crucial that relationship is for kids.

Congressman Jimmy Gomez [D-CA-34], founder and chair of the Congressional Dads Caucus, talked about some of the differences between the way fatherhood and motherhood are viewed by society. He cited the praise he received when he wore his infant son in a baby carrier on the house floor earlier this fall, and the way men often receive positive attention for doing the bare minimum of parenting. The world has long recognized “default work” in the home, and the way that women are more often expected to be the primary parent and do the household chores. In the same way, Congressman Gomez explained that there is “default legislators”, and the work on bills and initiatives that help America’s families is often left to the female members of government. The Congressman decided to start the dads caucus because he believes that it is time for dads to do more for families both at home and in government, and the caucus has been focusing their partnership on weighing in on issues like the child tax credit and paid family leave.

Dr. David Pate, a professor at the school of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Darryl Davidson from the Milwaukee Fatherhood Coalition explained that people don’t always see men who have children as parents, but instead as breadwinners. It is important not to divorce the concepts of race, class, and gender from this discussion, and the way that those systems of power affect people’s ability to provide for their families and have work schedules that allow them to be present. The presenters emphasized how important it is to differentiate between “dead-beat” and “dead-broke” when talking about parents assessing ways to provide support. By being more intentional about opening doors for dads in family life, society may be able to help promote that vital relationship in kids’ lives.

By Rebekah Lawatsch, Policy Intern