Comments: Fatherhood and mental illness

Fatherhood and mental illness

A review of key issues

Rhys Price-Robertson

CFCA Paper No. 30 — February 2015
Fatherhood and mental illness

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Please forgive the self-centredness of my anecdotal comment. Nearly 40 years ago I became a committed sole parent. It changed me. I became emotionally aware. And so began my struggle with gendered stigmatisation as a "secondary" (= inferior) parent. The lack of public acknowledgement of my equal value as a male parent plus the incessant barrage of a fashionable disdain for maleness, men and fathers contributed significantly, not just to recurrent depressive episodes, but also to their duration. There were economic and other repercussions for me and my children too. This gendered disdain is typically mislabelled as legitimate feminine or maternal assertiveness. It was, and still is condescending disdain, criticism and disaffirmation based on group identity only, namely maleness. And I believe that it has grave repercussions for today's children. Fortunately for my children, I had enough insight to recognise my vulnerability to legitimate feelings of male paranoia and inferiority when daring to trespass into what has historically been and remains in actual practice, a rigid and exclusive female domain. It the actual practice that counts, not the platitudes and denials of domain rigidity. My personal experience of publicly funded "helping professions" for distressed men like me was awful and disappointingly negative. For a variety of reasons the academic, legal and other professional frames of reference still remain wedded to inflexible and gendered stereotypes of parenthood, such as mother versus father, gendered competition and feminine/maternal victimhood. I somehow knew these sexist ideas were not in my or the children's best interest. I somehow instinctively knew how to best care for myself and my growing children. In my twilight years I am now reflecting on past experiences. This article at last recognises that men and fathers could do with some public affirmation plus meaningful research and charitable attention and especially so when struggling with mental illness. I believe that men's documented reluctance to seek "help" at times of distress has everything to do with negative expectations of outcome based on actual experience and intelligent observation. It is much less to do with the myriad of male demeaning explanations/excuses/rationalisations from the social sciences. Speaking personally, I carry an entirely valid wariness of a culture of disdain towards maleness at so many levels but especially within the counselling and psychological professions. Thank you for an excellent and thoughtful presentation. I wish it success and thoughtful debate.

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