That’s the topic of my latest piece for the Highgate Flier and Muswell Hill Handbook:
It’s all sorts of dads we should be thinking about – not just black ones!
I refer to both Barack Obama and David Cameron’s recently zooming in on the world of fatherless black children. Now yes – there is a disproportionately high number of black families being brought up essentially by the mother – but it’s also an issue in white communities.
I’ve been a single mother myself since my children were 7 and 12. And two things that used to annoy the whatsit out of me when they were at school were firstly that each year parents got a class list (with contact details of all the class parents) and despite informing the school many, many times that we were separated – it was always (only) my address and number on the list – the school itself was acting as if to exclude separated fathers. Secondly – the school tended to send notes home with the child about parents evenings, plays etc. And again – that means they all came to me – and more generally, as it is usually the mother that children live with, to the mothers. So again – the school was acting in a way that excluded separated fathers rather than bringing them in and encouraging their involvement
Being obviously extremely civilised – I would tell my ex the details from the notes and we would often go together to the parents evenings and so on. But if you’re not so lucky in how things work out, the school should be there encouraging the involvement of both parents.
The school should have an obligation to contact both parents about all school activities. Clearly if the situation is hostile – there may be issues – but at least both parents would be informed (so long as the parent and their whereabouts are known).
This has improved a bit in recent years – with email and some good practise where it is the norm to list and contact both parents regardless of status or hostilities – but not nearly enough.
I continue to believe that given it has been shown that a kid’s reading ability, particularly boys, improves beyond measure in correlation to how much reading they do with their dad – it’s time for pro-actively engaging fathers more.
I’m sure lots of you reading this (fathers) are engaged and equally involved with your kids – but this is about improving a situation where there is need.
In America, they have been implementing a scheme (or various schemes) called any variation on ‘Dads and Doughnuts’. Now whilst here we might prefer something other than doughnuts – the idea is a good one that can travel: the school invites Dads in to do things with their kids without the mums. Sometimes this is reading with a breakfast (great for Dads who go to work early) or evening events or parents’ nights for Dads only.
Dads have been left out in the cold for too long. We are seeing the consequences of their absence – but it’s not something we need simply complain about. We can, and should, act.