Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to all dads, stepdads, grandads and carers.

Today, I reflect on the moment I became a proud step Dad and when my children were born. Being present at the birth of my children was among the most profound experiences of my life. Participating with my wife and the other expectant couples in the ante natal classes leading up to the birth was a time of great anticipation mixed with excitement and anxiety. We received valuable instruction on what to expect, and how the fathers and partners might best support their spouses during the labour. It was taken as a given that fathers and spouses would be there during the labour and birth of their children. With the guidance of the classes plus an added benefit of hypnosis training I had undertaken earlier in my career, I was able to support my wife during the painful process of labour and be present as the miracle of new life entering our world unfolded. Being present at the birth was a time of immense joy and relief.

In contrast, at my own birth my Dad was not present in the labour ward. This was not because he was unsupportive - he was a gentle and loving Dad - or because of a lack of information or support (my mother and grandmother were midwives), but it simply was not the custom of the time. Fathers did not attend the labour. Instead, my Dad was pacing around the block near the hospital on his own, periodically checking in, no doubt anxiously waiting for news of the arrival of his child.

In a generation there has been a big shift in the aspirations of fathers to be involved in the life of their families beyond the traditional 'breadwinner' role. This extends from being present at the birth of children to dads becoming more involved in childcare and activities with their children and expressing the desire for more involvement. While patterns have changed for the better over time, we still experience barriers in making the goal of increased involvement by fathers more achievable.

Interesting research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies shows that only 1 in 20 dads access parental leave, and that while mothers workforce participation after the birth of children changes dramatically (either ceasing work for extended periods or taking part time work), fathers work patterns remains relatively unchanged. Fathers have tended to continue in a traditional breadwinner role while seeking flexible work arrangements (not less hours) to be more involved in childcaring responsibilities, with mothers continuing as primary carers while often juggling part time work. The researchers point to the persistence of traditional ideas of gender influencing decisions and perceptions, one of the factors in fathers' reluctance to seek parental leave. Other structural and social justice issues such as the gender pay gap are identified as factors driving men to continue in full time work, as opposed to a more shared arrangement with viable part time options. Stay at home Dads comprise a small percentage of fathers, with this rate remaining stable over the past decade.

This Father's Day we acknowledge, recognise and celebrate the important role of fathers in the life of their families. We can also celebrate the progress made over time with the changes to father's roles, while continuing our efforts to shift the attitudes and structures that are still holding us back from realising the full potential of greater father involvement. Achieving this is not easy, and I certainly experience my own very real challenges in contributing quality time to my family and caring responsibilities, while balancing the role of Director. But the benefits for fathers and families, and for couples through more equitable sharing of child caring responsibilities and workforce participation, are immeasurable.

May this be a special day of celebration, fun and enjoyment with your families. We also remember our father's who may no longer be with us and send our thoughts to those where the day may be one of mixed emotion or challenge due to personal reasons or family circumstances.

Happy Father's Day!
Michael Austin, Director.