Some men are doing it right – but we are not giving them credit for it. One of these men is Prince Henrik of Denmark. He just turned 80 yesterday and is possibly Denmark’s leading feminist – without even knowing it (I suspect he does, but he isn’t shouting it out from the rooftops, as he’s had enough problems with the press to know better).
He married Queen Margarethe of Denmark in the 60s and took on the role of becoming his wife’s husband- nothing more, or less. Because it turned out to be a much bigger role than he anticipated. Although often not recognised as such. That wasn’t easy for the Frenchman coming from a patriarchical family where he was the first boy of a large group of siblings and a culture where traditionally men were equal to women, if not superior but seldomly, if ever, seen as inferior to their wives. Just 5 years after they got married, his wife became Queen of Denmark – which did not, paradoxically, make him king. (When men become kings, their wives’ titles change too, but it’s not the other way around). He wasn’t seen as equal to the queen (as happens to other spouses of royal Highnesses, who traditionally just have been women) and although this must not have been a surprise, it was difficult to accept especially when his children (and the future king of Denmark) seemed to have higher status.This caused a stir – and ultimately the Prince got a special title in 2005 to distinguish him from all other male family members in the family. He now goes under the title ‘Prinsgemalen’ or Prince Consort of Denmark. If we saw kings and queens as equals, he would be king.
The title aside, the prince consort accepted the terms with dignity (although the bullying and at times nationalistic sensationalism in the Danish press will have you think otherwise) and found his place in the royal family. Which was as a primary caregiver.
It has become common knowledge here in Denmark that in the royal family, the caretaker was the queen’s husband, as the queen was busy adapting to her new responsibilities. She was even criticised for not being there for her two young children- but he was there. I expect it was a common decision by the couple that Prince Henrik would take on the main parenting role. No small deed in the late 60s. There weren’t many stay-at-home dads at the time. I mean, just look at this photo:
This must have seemed very progressive – an official photo with the proud father holding his young son and the queen standing behind them. The image is infinitely beautiful and attests to his commitment as a father. (he was also known for cuddling his children and kissing them in public- a very unusual thing for Danish fathers at the time). And this is precisely what, I think, can make a difference that men can see other high profile men embrace fatherhood and acknowledge the importance attached to parenting, and that although the mother and father roles are not necessarily inter-changeable, they are equally important. And we need to see more of committed fathers in the media. Its 2014, and what has stricken me on twitter for example, is how many high-profile women describe themselves as this & that and as ‘mom’, ‘mother’, having children or mentioning their role as a mother if they get a chance to- and actually how few men title themselves ‘proud fathers’.
A man who belongs in the ‘Proud Father” category (or more like actually owns it!) is Jimmy Fallon.
He is not afraid of showing how important family is in his life (I would love to hear more about how he balances career & family) and show his familyman side next to the ‘funnyman’ side. I hope this can be seen as a symbol of our generation – that men will be more visible in their parenting role – because that is how women will move forward as well.
But you don’t have to be a dad to highlight fatherhood. Stromae, who is not only a gifted singer but also amazingly sane and wise for his age, has made a great song called ‘Papaoutai’ (Daddy, where are you) that spells out how important a father is to a son. He grew up without his father who was then killed in the Rwandan genocide when he was a teenager so he knows what he’s talking about. Stromae is known for making songs relating to his own experience and is someone doing a great service to the equality cause in general.
I don’t know enough about Stromae’s dad to say that he didn’t fulfil his parenting duties but still today, there are many fathers that ‘opt out’ on fatherhood, deliberately. Which has an effect on the children they don’t raise. Because opting out shouldn’t be an option. Or at least then those fathers should be demonised like the mothers who do the same are. Except that there are many more fathers failing to be exactly that. So many in the US that president Obama has taken the issue at heart (he himself raised without his father’s participation):
“We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child – it’s the courage to raise one.” — President Barack Obama
Then there are those that simply don’t see how important their role is. Or even those that do, but will not admit it to other out of fear of appearing feminine or weak.
There is still work to be done to highlight the importance fathers have – and the joy fatherhood can bring – so more fathers will feel that prioritising family over a career is a good choice – and won’t feel embarassed about it. Only when we won’t see people like Prince Henrik as extraordinary for caring for his children, will we have moved forward in the equality battle.