Opinion: Fathers not served by justice

Rachel O'Brien, director of external affairs at the Institute for Public Policy Research

I don't like Fathers' Day. Then again, I think Mothers' Day is rubbish. In fact, I dislike any day designed to make us feel special.

That is not to say that these things don't have their uses. Aside from the squillions spent on cards and flowers, these days provide 'hooks' - hooks for the media to run stupid stories and companies to launch daft products.

They are also hooks for the voluntary sector to launch campaigns which attempt to compete with this noise and - perhaps - help serious issues hit a popular note.

As Father's Day approaches, we may see a lot of this. All I hope is that instead of more fathers in their underpants hanging from large machinery or throwing pink talc, we see more of the constructive debate about active fatherhood which has gained ground in the past few years.

I know it's harsh, but when I see one of the Fathers for Justice superheroes on a JCB, I think "no wonder she left him". This kind of campaigning is completely counter to notions of responsibility and rational behaviour, qualities most of us would agree that we seek in parents. It also undermines the work and reputation of organisations like Fathers Direct, which have built a reputation for being concerned with gender equity and what's good for children as well as fathers.

Research from the Equal Opportunities Commission shows that there has been a quiet revolution over the past decade in the role that fathers are playing in caring for their children. The voluntary and community sector has played a part in encouraging this shift, and there is now a plethora of father's groups working on the ground. But most organisations working directly with fathers are under-resourced and isolated.

The sector needs to embrace the active fatherhood agenda. Our default position should be that men's roles in relation to families and children are central and not just economic. Women's organisations in particular must not assume that the wants and needs of mothers and children are contingent upon fathers being an afterthought.

- Lisa Harker is recovering from an accident.

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