Blog Post: Some Excellent Men
By Dermot Brady, Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Kingston University
This photograph is one I took in Hong Kong some years ago. It shows masks that children who experienced domestic abuse in their home created as part of their recovery process. I find them sad, but beautiful. I am using the picture because I haven’t taken one of the group of foster carers that I was invited by Delroy Parkes to talk to last night. This was a male foster carers support group facilitated by National Fostering Agency (NFA). So there are links between this group and children’s experiences. Taking pictures of the men might enable identification of the children they foster so I won’t be doing that. Perhaps this gives a little insight into what might be involved in fostering.
Delroy has been running these groups for a while and asked me to come along and talk about the work we do with Caring Dads, so I talked about the programme. I hoped that it was a way of having a conversation about men, men’s violence and their capacity to change. I have been working in this field for a long time and it would be easy to fall into old tropes about all men being…well, whatever. I think that if we have low expectations of men, particularly in relation to our ability to nurture and care for children, we run the risks of having our low expectations met and also of placing all the work of parenting children squarely on women’s shoulders.
As our discussion went on, and overran, some of the themes you might expect emerged. The men talked about the scant information they would get about the children they looked after, the persistence required to stay with this work over many years, the assumption frequently made by professionals that the men were the B carer, that people would ask their wives and partners about the children and not them. We talked about the differences between their childhoods and how things are now, the hitting of children that was commonplace when they grew up and the different ways they approached their own parenting. We discussed the backgrounds of the men on Caring Dads groups and how the children they cared for often came from families where domestic abuse was the norm.
It was a useful and enlightening discussion for me and the men said it was useful too, although that might just be politeness. At the end of the session, I thanked them for inviting me along and I said that it was genuinely a privilege for me. That’s the kind of thing that people, including me, sometimes just rattle out as the done thing, but I really meant it. And then one man asked me what I had learned from being there.
Good question. So this is what I learned. You need an awful lot of persistence and strength to persist with fostering over many years. You need to know how to build trust with children who have often been traumatised by their experiences in the home and by how the system responds. You have to love and care for those children and to do that you have to get to know them and understand their behaviour, particularly when they are angry, or sad, or scared. You have to work closely with your wife or partner and there has to be equality in your relationship or else you are not going to be able to keep going and you certainly won’t be able to work together in the interest of the children. You’d best have a sense of humour and not take yourself too seriously at times, but you have to know when things are serious. You understand that seeking support is important and you are ok with that, but the support is often informal and comes from other men doing the same work as you. Love is work, so work at that. There are certainly some men who are not doing a great job at parenting, who neglect and abuse their children and the women in their lives. I think they deserve a chance to change and I know not everyone will agree with me on that. I don’t forget the women either, as I know that they are so often the one constant in many children’s lives. I also know that most of us are trying to live a decent life and be good enough men. And I know that there are also, just like this group in Crystal Palace on a September evening, some excellent men.