The researcher Marc Grau-Grau organises Fatherhood Expert Meeting at Harvard
Marc Grau-Grau, researcher in the Childcare and Family Policies Chair organised a meeting with experts in fatherhood at Harvard University on 25 and 26 June along with Hannah Riley Bowles, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School.
Recent social, economic and technological changes have changed the attitudes and behaviour of modern-day fathers. These new circumstances have attracted growing academic attention as well as arousing renewed political and media interest in the father’s role. However, it seems that we are only in the initial stages of a potential revolution which could have a very positive impact on families, homes, the job market and society in general.
The main aim of the meeting was to encourage a rich discussion between experts from a number of disciplines which rarely have the chance to cross paths, but with a common academic interest: fathers. The three main disciplines present were: health and well-being, public policies and organisations. The main questions guiding the discussion approached in an interdisciplinary manner by the participants were: What impact does fatherhood involvement have on the children’s and the father’s health? Which social policies truly foster fatherhood involvement? Which role do organisations play in fostering active fathering?
In the first section (health and well-being), four well-known doctors with prestigious publications, Dr Michael Yogman, Dr Craig Garfiel, Dr Milton Kotelcheck and Dr Raymond Levy, presented the impact of fatherhood involvement on the children’s and the father’s health. Among other results, the experts agree that fathers are crucial to the cognitive and social development of their children, their academic abilities, the richness of their language and their emotional stability. One lesser known and studied area is the impact of involvement on the health of the father and on forming healthy habits. Some of the main challenges arising from the discussion were how to involve the father even prior to the birth of their children, how to encourage the health system to empower the figure of the father and how to reinforce fatherhood involvement of fathers not residing in the household.
In the second section (public policies), five prestigious academics in the area of social policies, Dr Alison Kolsowski, Dr Margaret O’Brien, Dr Elin Kvande, Dr Xiana Bueno and Dr Alexandra Macht, explored how family and social policies developed at state level can increase fatherhood involvement and the number of fathers making use of such policies. The expert group agreed that the use of family policies by fathers is greater when they are well funded, individual and non-transferrable as well as having cultural backing. The experts also shared the view that taking paternity leave strengthens the bond and the relationship with their children. The most relevant challenges arising in this section were the need to include fathers as eligible who no longer are (self-employed, without a steady job, etc.) and to foster a culture of fathers making use of policies.
Finally, in the third section (organisations), five experts accredited in the area of organisations, Dr Mireia las Heras, Dr María José Bosch, Dr Jamie Ladge, Dr Sabrina Tanquerel and Dr Brad Harrington, analysed the impact organisations and organisational culture have on fatherhood involvement. One of the main conclusions was that, in spite of the increase in flexible policies offered by organisations, their use is relatively low due to an organisational culture which is largely insensitive towards fatherhood (and motherhood), thus stopping employees from making use of the internal policies offered by their organisations. The main challenges in this area were how to nurture organisations sensitive to the concept of active fatherhood and motherhood and how to reduce the distance between access and use of flexible policies offered by today’s organisations.
In conclusion, the experts emphasised the need to continue carrying out more research in the small, yet growing, field of fatherhood. Moreover, the participants also appreciated the interdisciplinary discussion, which is sadly rare in the academic world, as well as the special attention paid to fathers in contexts and situations largely unexplored to date. Two major outputs resulted from the meeting: an academic book with a contribution from each expert published by a prestigious publisher and a report replete with suggestions and recommendations for policy-makers, as well as business leaders, to continue strengthening fatherhood and all its benefits.