What is Why Not Dad?
Why Not Dad? is a collaborative ethnographic film. It is singularly unique in that the film was constructed out of the desire to be of some clear benefit to the community involved which included making sure the community members had a voice in the development of the film. The basis of all fieldwork and subsequent filming on this project was fundamentally constructed upon the goal of a participatory design where the community itself defines the specific ways the project will contribute to this change (Barab et al., 2004). It required the participation of community educators, parents and professionals, all of whom participated in the development of the film on multiple levels. They were advisors to the scope of the film, the importance of certain subjects to be filmed, and eventually were gatekeepers of their own representations in this film.
Due to the unique closeness and special relationships formed in the process of filming this documentary, Why Not Dad? is able to insightfully portray the intimate relationships between fathers and their children, men and their wives and the interesting dynamics of playground relationships between men and women. The men featured in the film have a special and dedicated interest in the ongoing use of this film in community education and as such, have agreed to play an active role in the support of community screenings and discussions. It is our hope that these fathers, functioning as spokesmen at film screenings and other events, will be visible advocates for developing better outreach, educational and play programs for fathers and will further broaden the ways and settings in which this film may be used.
Summary of the Film
Why Not Dad? explores the growing trend of men taking on the role of primary caregiver in their families and becoming stay-at-home fathers. It follows three stay-at-home fathers who are members of the San Francisco Stay-at-Home Dads Group, which meets once a week at a local playground. These fathers speak about their experiences as the minority on the playground, the challenges they confront within a society accustomed mainly to women as the primary caregiver, the need for support from other stay-at-home fathers and how the gender role-reversal affects their children and their wives.
Salient points the fathers touch upon in their interviews include how they and their wives came to the decision to have him stay-at-home, the financial considerations, weighing day care issues and how much the two of them value the work of stay-at-home parents. In addition to seeing what a day in the life of a stay-at-home dad is like, the film spends ample time among the group of fathers who organize and meet weekly at a local playground and audiences see how important those relationships to other stay-at-home fathers have become to the men in the film. Ultimately, the men in the film leave the audience with an admonishment to think about this parenting choice as an option for their family and impart an overall sense of fulfillment and happiness in their choice to stay at home.
Background on stay-at-home fathers in the U.S.
There is wide speculation about the number of stay-at-home fathers in the U.S. According to U.S. Census figures, there may be as few as 105,000 families with a stay-at-home father (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2003). Or, as many as 1 in 5 fathers, as determined by a telephone survey of 1,302 households and conducted by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates on behalf of Spike TV (2004). From the disparity of these numbers it is not clear what kind of percentage of the population is a stay-at-home father and future study in this area would do much to clarify the issue.
Currently, most research on the new and growing trend of stay-at-home fathers is derived from previous research on fatherhood involvement patterns and effects. While these studies can be insightful about the emergence of increased father involvement in the care and rearing of their children, there is no data or research specifically addressing the father who stays at home with his children.
Another way of investigating the lives of stay-at-home fathers is understanding the gender barriers in place for men in similar situations, men attempting to break into a predominantly female work environment for example.
Just as parenting has traditionally been the role of women, the care of invalids has also traditionally been advanced as an acceptable career choice for women since the days of Florence Nightingale. And just as stay-at-home fathers face women’s fears regarding their capability and skills at being a nurturer for children, so do male nurses face their colleagues’ fears that they will not bring compassion or will act inappropriately while providing care for female patients (O’Lynn 2007).
The concerns of the men in O’Lynn’s (2007) study mirror the concerns heard during filming of Why Not Dad? There is a certain level of cautiousness a father must take when he enters a playground. Fathers have reported they fear being perceived as predators by the mothers in the park and try to establish their relationship to the child they are with as quickly and publicly as possible to mitigate potential concerns of other park goers. And just as male nurses recount their experiences with being shut out of their colleagues’ nursing meetings and discussions because of their gender, so do stay-at-home fathers report their inability to access support from mother’s groups who also meet at the parks. There may be different reasons behind these similarities, for one, fathers may not be readily admitted to mother’s groups because of the personal and intimate conversations of breastfeeding, pregnancy and labor to which men may not readily relate. Indeed, from the collaboration with the stay-at-home fathers featured in the film, many fathers report not having anything in common to talk about with the women of the mother’s groups when they do find entrée to those groups.
What is clear from these comparisons and our work within the stay-at-home community in San Francisco is that more and more men are recognizing their value as involved parents and accepting the challenges of full-time parenting for their families. They accept this role for various reasons, come from varied lifestyles and backgrounds, but they all represent the new attitude that men can be extremely competent caretakers and they all express the desire to see more men joining their ranks.
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