Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ode to a Single Father

When I was just seven years old my mother lost her multiple year long battle with breast cancer. My father was left to raise my little sister and I by himself, in a country and culture that was not his own, with family members on the other side of the world unable to provide support. His subsequent path as a single father that was both supportive and involved not only allowed me to grow into a functioning adult but I believe also importantly shaped what I associate with gender and gender-roles in relationships. 

For example, during discussions in class and on the blog the class has talked about emotional labor. Looking at my own relationship with a cis-gendered heterosexual man I did not observe that one of us did more of the chores, planning, or worrying. Could this be because growing up I only saw my father worry about whether my permission slips were getting signed and that I was doing my homework? Or could it be because I did not grow up with a hetero-sexual couple that had been socialized in a culture that expects women to take on the brunt of the emotional labor?

I also observed the possible influence of having a single-father during the class discussion of cultural feminism. During class the students put adjectives under "feminine" and "masculine" that they believed were often associated with the two ideas. Almost all the adjectives under "feminine" were things that I associated with my father - he was creative, forward thinking, and not single minded. Many of the adjectives and stereotypes that were placed under the feminine column were descriptions associated with raising children and taking care of the home, which is probably symptomatic of the fact that women are seen as being responsible for the sphere of domesticity in our society. While my father may have exhibited these traits even if my mother was alive, his position of being a single-father may have also forced him to. 

To see whether my interpretation that growing up with a single-father impacted my view on gender roles was something shared by others, I took some time to research whether there was a link between single-fathers and feminism. My brief search turned up mostly information on how feminism has treated fathering in general, not single fathers specifically. In "Between Two F-Words: Fathering and Feminism", Andrea Dorcet explains how different strands of feminism have taken multiple approaches to fathering. On one end of the spectrum radical feminism sees women's interests as separate from men (thus may not include the interests of fathering), while some feminist strands view fathering as important to feminism, especially in the context of the work-family balance for couples. Single fathers do no apply to the context of helping work-family balance in a heterosexual couple in that by definition they do not have a relationship to bring that balance to. However, I believe single fathers can be part of feminism when they teach their daughters or sons that a man can do as much as a woman when it comes to taking care of the family and home, and thus should be expected to do so.

While the different strands of feminism may disagree about what role men and fathering play in the feminist movement I can say that having a single-father has personally had an influence on my own feminism and outlook on the world. So thank you dad, for showing me that fathers can braid hair, do the laundry, and cook a delicious dinner all in the same day. Thank you for showing me a man can have a job and run a household. And of course, thank you for always unabashedly buying me tampons at the supermarket when I was too embarrassed to buy them myself. 


Kyle Kate Dudley said...


This is such a beautiful, heartfelt, and IMPORTANT blog post. Your father is an incredibly inspiring person. While I'm always inspired by stories of single parents, your dad is exceptional. He overcame adversity, culture shock, his certain sadness, and simultaneously tackled traditional gender roles. I think he is an incredible example for other men. While I do not wish his circumstances on anyone, I wish there were more men like him in the world.

I also see his influence on you in the ways you described: you are empowered and equilateral in your approach to the world almost without thinking about it and that is something for any woman to aspire to. It is a bit more effortless for you to approach the world this way because you had an innovative role model. Perhaps your role model wasn't an intentional feminist, but he raised an empowered woman and did not shirk duties that might commonly be seen as not suiting his gender.

Your father was, perhaps a coincidental, unconscious feminist, but he produced an incredibly conscious one. My thanks go out to him and men like him!

Julie Maguire said...


This is such an amazing tribute to someone who seems like a very incredible person.

I can really relate to the many ways in which you didn't see the stereotypes associated with the traits of men vs women. While I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where both my parents raised us, I also experienced a very obvious share in parental duties regardless of their societal associations. For example, my dad adores cooking and baking and my mom has worked as a full-time physiotherapist for the majority of my life.

I believe that a lot of this is due to the circumstances in which I grew up; with two career-driven parents who very equally shared all aspects and responsibilities associated with parenting. It is this influence that really showed me the ability of fathers to take over various roles that would traditionally be expected of the mother. It makes me wonder if maybe it is the willingness of the parents to take on some of these roles that ultimately decides whether or not they are shared. Maybe the opinion of society matters less than the desires and readiness of couples to split the responsibilities.

Josie Zimmermann said...

"However, I believe single fathers can be part of feminism when they teach their daughters or sons that a man can do as much as a woman when it comes to taking care of the family and home, and thus should be expected to do so."

I think this is such an important quote from your post. It might have been unconscious, but you're use of "can" really highlights a respect of what has been considered "women's work." Valuing child-rearing and housework makes them desirable skills, and classifying them as desirable seems to me a much better plan than depicting them as grunt work that men should have to participate in as well.

Louise Trainor said...

Joan, thank you for this powerful post. Your Father is an extremely inspiring male figure, one who all men should strive to be should they become parents in their lifetime.
Your heartfelt praise got me thinking of my own Father back in Ireland. I am very privileged to have been reared in a family with two parents whose marriage has remained as strong as ever after thirty one years. Both my Mother and my Father have contributed equally to my upbringing, but both in very different ways.
My Father has a unique understanding of human nature and was able to identify with the emotions of a young pre-pubescent Louise. My Father was the one I would turn to if a teacher was ever mean to me at school or if I felt uncomfortable in my skin.
My Mother is more in to the tough-love approach. She taught me to be resilient and to not settle for less than what I am capable of. My Mother is the one I seek advice from when I am stressed with college work or feeling like I am not reaching my full potential.
While I can't directly relate with your empowering childhood, I can empathise with your experience of having a maternal Father figure. I believe that in a family dynamic, it is up to the individual parent to embrace their natural skills and rear the children based on their instinctual views of how they see the world.

This is a beautiful post- power to the Fathers of this world!

Nicolette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicolette said...


Thank you for sharing this with us. It's a perspective (those raised by single fathers) that gets overlooked and we need it voiced here on the blog. It's so lovely that your father stepped up to the plate as a single parent, so much that traditional gender norms weren't a part of your upbringing. I admire that and can relate to a certain extent since my father never re-married after my parents' separation. As a child, I also experienced my father's homemade dinners after work and interesting hairstyles for school picture day. My dad also tried, but for me, it never felt quite the same way as when mom would do those things. However, I never admitted it to my father in fear of making him feel unappreciated.

You sort of touched on this, but I wonder if your father was able to be there emotionally for you in the ways that women are often expected to take on the emotional labor. Did he talk to you about dating, intimacy, body development, etc.? Was he there for you after the heart breaks? Personally, I don't think my dad knew how to address those things so it went unspoken in my household, but I'm interested to see how other fathers deal with these common issues. Nonetheless, your father obviously did a fantastic job and I'm sure he's just as proud of you as you are of him.