By The Editors
Date Posted: 15th December, 2011
Leaving father out in the cold
In western society certainly since the second world war it has been a reasonable ambition for parents to achieve for their children a safer, healthier and more comfortable life than they themselves had experienced as children. Certainly it was an ambition that was in large measure realised in the United Kingdom. In the foreseeable future, given the dire forecasts for the economic climate in our capitalist world, it seems like an aspiration that will not be so easily arrived at.
It is clear that life with less money is placing pressure on families. This is not to deny that family life always has both ups and downs and in a sense so it should, for this is how children learn that difficulties can be coped with and problems can be overcome. Those who were children in the Europe of the late 1940s, 50s and 60s will remember the austerity and relative poverty of their childhood in those post-war years. They may also remember it was possible to enjoy life even if they were quite poor. As children they sang songs while skipping, they swung from trees using an old rope suspended from a branch. It was a time when children made things from cardboard boxes, pieces of wood, old pram wheels, rubber bands, string and a wide variety of different tin cans. If children didn’t have those things at the ready then they improvised with thin air. In the 1950s and 60s if you saw children – particularly boys – running down the street you would know immediately by the style and actions they adopted whether they were just running, driving a racing car, riding a horse, or flying a ‘plane or piloting a space ship. This kind of play is not now so evident. The children of the post-war era were growing up in a period of burgeoning affluence and as time passed children were increasingly bought ready made manufactured replica toys and some even had parents who were sufficiently affluent that they could buy their children real horses ! Without making a complete generalisation it is evident that children today are bought games which can, by electronic methods, allow them to simulate all of the activities previously described simply by watching a computer screen and pressing buttons. This is neither a rant against the excesses of affluent times nor against computers and computer technology. It is good that children are better fed and are healthier and it is both inevitable and good that children are given new things which allow them to play in a new way. No, this is just an observation that given the worsening economic conditions a good number of kids may well have to go back to playing in a way that exercises imaginative and practical creativity. This is not necessarily a bad thing. When children are given the opportunity to do so they naturally fall into this kind of play. They are discovering and making things for themselves. Give a young child a ready made toy packed in a large cardboard box on Christmas morning and by Boxing day the toy may well be discarded and the cardboard box will be the centre of activity as a house, a car, a model football stadium or cut up to make a board game.
This ‘old fashioned’ kind of play still exists in all the poorer parts of our world where poor means having just enough food and shelter to live. But play does not take place where there is not enough food to live healthily or where parents have no money and no status. This is the kind of poverty which threatens children’s physical and emotional development. It is the kind which splits families asunder. There are many ways in which such a break up can occur. Two for the moment come to mind. There are parents who are unable to find work and who have to leave home to work in distant countries. There are also, for example, parents, who themselves have experienced family difficulties in their own childhood. These parents may not have the personal resources to deal with their impoverished situation creatively and become so depressed, feel so hopeless in the face of what they see as their own failure that they steal or encourage their children to steal in order to fund unhelpful solace in alcohol or drugs while their children starve. However, just to insist to such parents that they should pull themselves together, stand on their own two feet and go out and get a job is not only too simplistic a solution, it is also an unreasonable expectation. Yet that’s what is done. In our impatience to find a quick fix, in our resistance to spending the time to develop trusting relationships with these parents, relationships which, above anything else, will help them establish a base on which to build a solution to their problems, we drain off our frustration by jumping up and down like a tyrant who demands that Rome will be built in a day. Nowadays jobs can’t be found too easily and sometimes things have sunk so far that for the time being a person is not fit to work. These circumstances should be generally understood and tolerated.
So by this circuitous route we come to introduce a principal theme of this issue of the goodenoughcaring Journal, fathers. For most of us our experience of being fathered is good enough but fathers are often the target of those who would criticise and demand immediate change. Of course we may allow the criticism but, as has been suggested, walking alongside it should also be understanding and patience particularly for fathers who were brought up to think a man must be hard and aggressive if he is to survive. It does not do for such a man to show emotion. It does not do for him to be seen as weak or bending. We should have patience and understanding too for the hard working fathers whose whole sense of self and worth implodes when they are made redundant. We should have sympathy for fathers who returning home from work are placed in the position of bogeymen, there to tell the kids off for all the naughty things they have been up to; for fathers who don’t turn up to parents’evenings at school,to family therapy sessions or meetings with social workers; for absent fathers who are in prison, or who are so imprisoned by the limitations of their own childhood that they have no insight of what the significance is of being present for their children. We should help them but, to be sure, effective help will be a slow process. Gaining the trust of someone who has been insecure for much of his life takes time.
Families can and do flourish without a father but the articles in this issue are strong evidence of the vital and rich role that men play as fathers and carers in the development of children. We are not denying the significance of mothers, indeed it is because in a sense so much, and often too much, is expected of mothers that there is a need to consider more the parenting figures who support mothers. In the main these are fathers and it is important that boys should be cherished, nurtured and helped to become good enough fathers. It is important also that girls, future mothers,learn to cherish the care of an effective father. Too often father is left out in the cold.
In this issue different aspects of fatherhood and what it is to be a father are explored in a poem by Jan Noble, and in articles by Joyce Carol Oates, Alex Russon, Mark Smith and our inspiration for choosing this theme, John Stein. We have two contrasting accounts of child observations. In one Marie Tree considers the opportunity for reflection which the child observation provided her while Moira Strachan observes the relationship of a young boy and his male carer in a nursery school. Marion Bennathan writes about nurture groups in schools and Cynthia Cross recollects the nature of residential child care in the 1960s and compares it to current practice. Jeremy Millar revisits the work and thoughts of Chris Beedell. Noel Howard has written a moving review of Danny Ellis’ CD 800 Voices : the heartache and the healing. John Molloy provides a review of Richard Webster’s book The Secret of Bryn Estyn. Bob Forrest presents The Kerelaw Papers (The Final Act) and Pat Petrie tells us about the Sing Up for Looked After Children project and its social pedagogic base.
Link :Tommy Cooper sings Don’t jump off the roof Dad at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvJc7szD-RM