Jael, who is doing her internship with us in partial fulfillment for her degree in social work was curious why most of the caregivers she met were mothers and women. She wondered where the fathers and the men in the community were. “Men and fathers are difficult to engage,” she was told at school and when she asked the women she met in the neighbourhood if this was true, they concurred. Nevertheless, as she administered a survey among financial assistance applicants, she asked the men who spoke to her if they would kindly allow her to call them again to find out their views about family life. “Fathers Speak!” was how she introduced her endeavour and most of them agreed.
“Families are poor because parents choose not to work,” was a provocative statement she put forth half-expecting the men to strongly object to the statement. However, many men told her that they do not consider themselves poor as they have work, a roof over their heads and a family that brings them many rich moments. Yes, they may not be able to always afford nice things but they got by and so they do not regard themselves as poor. By the same logic they figured that the statement had some truth but added that it really depended on the family’s situation. They cautioned that families had different challenges and one should not be so quick to judge.
Jael was struck by how these men went about their lives tranquilly. Obviously, qualifying for financial assistance meant that they were struggling but they seemed so positive about their situation. “Was such a response just men being manly?” she thought to herself but the lesson she gathered was how important it was for people to keep their dignity and self-worth intact. “Why is it that we have to paint people as poor and needy before they can be deserving of our attention?” she questioned and concluded that doing so robbed people of their self-respect.
The fathers were also asked their views on education, the importance of being their family’s breadwinner and whether they had emotional needs. They ranked the importance of education highly and overwhelmingly admitted that they needed the emotional support of their loved ones. A few shared they would cry over painful moments in a relationship but not about the loss of a job. They believed that securing employment was a problem they could resolve.
However, this did not mean that they were fine with being unemployed. When asked how important it was to be the main breadwinner, the Muslim men said they felt lousy and embarrassed when they were out of a job. They explained that when taking their marriage vows, it was explicitly stated that the husband had the responsibility and duty to provide for his wife and the family.
Nonetheless, one man whose health problems rendered him a physical disability was able to make peace with this vow even though he could not gain employment. He threw all his energy into being the homemaker taking on the responsibility for the cleaning and cooking. He reasoned that he was fulfilling his marriage vow as this was the way he could provide for his family. He took pains to explain this to his sons and is most heartened that his sons have no qualms helping him in the kitchen and attending to household chores commonly associated with women.
Even though she was told that it would be difficult, Jael attempted to engage the men because in her words, “if one does not try, one will never know.” Now that she has done so, what she knows has enriched us all and reminded us that our hesitation in engaging others is often only limited by our perceptions and fears.
Wishing good health and peace of mind.
You live longer once you realize that any time spent being unhappy is wasted. – Ruth E. Renkel