Completely absent fathers, who only dissolve at work, are rather a rarity today. Fathers, who really do half of the care work for their children, but also. Author Tobias Moorstedt calls these fathers, to which he also counts himself: the bad good fathers. Not really bad, but not really great either. That is still due to the social framework, he says. But also in a trap that is easy to fall into. A Father's Day conversation about images of men, the difficult task of cutting fingernails and the pressure that weighs on fathers.
ntv.de: What do you think of the Father's Day concept?
Tobias Moorstedt: I have the feeling that Father's Day and Mother's Day have been scolded my whole life. Because they are such artificial occasions. On the other hand, today I got a gift from my five-year-old daughter that she made in kindergarten. And I was happy because it's always nice when you get affection from your children. But I also find it worrying.
Because the gifts that are produced in the kindergartens reproduce gender norms and thus reinforce them. The mothers got a heart that said: Mom is the best. I got a kind of warning triangle now. It said: Dad is my superhero. Funnily enough, my daughter wrote, "Because it's so cuddly." So I'm not a classic superhero who can do everything, but my superpower is my softness. I had to laugh at that.
Does the image of the caring father still collide with images of masculinity?
Men certainly don't consciously say that they reject it because it's too unmanly for them. But we probably often think that we are further than we actually are. This is reflected in the ambivalence and the discord. In surveys today, only 30 percent of fathers of young children say they believe it is the father's job to support the family alone. But more than 66 percent say they believe society expects it of them. They don't see themselves as having this responsibility, but believe that others do. This leads to perceived social pressure. When external expectations are in conflict with one's own needs, that's not such an easy situation.
To what extent do we have a social exchange about fatherhood?
That's just very selective. The father who takes care of his children is always a kind of caricature or there are special circumstances that lead to active and caring fatherhood. We all know those movies that are meant to be funny in a way, where a man unexpectedly has to take care of his baby because the woman died. And then he acts insanely stupid. There is no normality of the caring father. One talks much more often about mothers, what they do or don't do, than about fathers. They are asked how they reconcile family and career. Men don't have that issue at all. And there is still social sanction for deviating from the traditional pattern. It's really exciting how much pressure characterizes this whole discourse, instead of saying, yes, it's exciting, everyone is doing their best and trying to live according to their needs.
When did you start actively reflecting on your fatherhood?
Pretty late, because I thought I didn't have the problem. I saw myself as a modern man who naturally lives on an equal footing with his partner in all areas of life, including parenting. I had no awareness of the problem, nor was I afraid that we might slip into traditional roles. About a year after the birth of our younger daughter, I had to admit that we are a long way from a modern or equal division of tasks. At first I thought it was just a phase and it will happen again. But that's not how it works. I came out of the office at 5:00 p.m. and my children ran towards me like I used to run towards my father. I had the feeling that I was reproducing a role that I thought I had overcome. I then noticed that I had handed over entire areas of childcare to my wife: cutting fingernails or hair, buying clothes, making friends with the children. That was the starting point because I was wondering how that happened.
What answer did you find?
It happens when you don't actively work against it. That was also the sentence I heard most often from the men I spoke to for my book. "We just slipped into it." And then you realize that it's a multidimensional problem. There is the patriarchy as an institution that is thousands of years old and cannot be rebuilt individually now. There is the economic system and the work culture and, last but not least, the political framework.
You then wrote a book about it, where did you start?
I've spoken to women scientists on the subject and asked what they would personally advise and expected highly complicated things. But they all answered that the couples don't talk to each other enough. There are too many assumptions and too little exchange. I found that with us too. We didn't say: How do I imagine that? How do you imagine that? How shall we try? We thought we loved each other and were unique, that doesn't happen to us. That's just wrong. You need a goal definition, that's the most important lever. Where do we want to go? Then you have to find solutions.
This reminds me of Patricia Cammarata's book "Get Out of the Mental Load Trap"...
Yes I read that too and she posted a mental load test which is really insightful. There you can visualize who is doing which tasks and you get a score. Some find it unsexy or nerdy to depict everyday family life in Excel spreadsheets. But this making visible and talking about it is important. Anyone can do this with the tools of their choice. You can also go for a walk and talk about it. I had this shift and I thought, that's super sexy. Here we make a plan for our lives, how we can become super happy. That's a wonderful thing.
What exactly did you change?
I would now like to say that I have conquered all these areas. But apart from the increased exchange, the most important factor was that my wife started working again. She is a doctor and has an 80 percent job, which is 120 percent in reality. And then I had to change my mind automatically. I've also taken the children to the day care center before and I've been to baby swimming. Now I was 100 percent responsible during their working hours. And ended up cutting fingernails. Wasn't that difficult.
Your book is called "We Bad Good Fathers" and it contains facts about how many fathers want to be present and how many they actually are. There is a significant discrepancy there. Do fathers lie to themselves?
In many ways, social discourse is further ahead than social reality. So it's not just the fathers who lie to each other, but also the parents, and society as a whole. Traditional role models are also widespread in seemingly enlightened milieus, but if you address it, you just say: "Yes, my wife is just more interested in children's fashion." Which of course is not true. This line of reasoning only hides how little our way of life fits in with the values we claim to hold. Because otherwise we wouldn't be able to stand it.
What is the book supposed to trigger?
I would wish that not only women would buy the book, but also a few men. There is an active community that shares ideas about fatherhood - father bloggers, advisors and coaches. It's still a niche. A representative study that I commissioned for the book found that only 30 percent of fathers talk to each other about their fatherhood. That's terrible. Changing that is in the best interests of fathers. Otherwise they are all alone with the social pressure.
Solveig Bach spoke to Tobias Moorstedt