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 “Just as justice is what love looks like in public, tenderness is what love feels like in private. To be a great father, you must be a militant for tenderness, an extremist for love, a fanatic for fairness, and, in the larger society, a drum major for justice.”

– Dr. Cornel West

By Tuval Dinner

If we watch television, listen to the radio, and follow the advice of parenting books, it is easy to understand how confusing the messages we receive about fatherhood can be.

We may hear: “You have to be tough on your kids; you have to be gentle with your kids. You have to provide for your family; you have to be an equal partner in housework. You are the head of the family; you are part of a team. You must be strong; you must be soft. You must tell your kids what to do; you must listen.”

It can make it hard to know what our roles and responsibilities as fathers should be. One way to help shape our decisions is to think about the outcome we are hoping for, and the goals that will lead us there.

One of the goals I have for my children is for them to live in and contribute to a world where all people are safe, strong and free regardless of their gender. I see my role as a father as central in helping them think about what it means to be a man in today’s world and how relationships between people – regardless of gender – can thrive.

“Fathers can play a powerful role in supporting our children as they move towards a future where all people can be safe, strong and free.”

There are 5 main guiding principles I use as a father to contribute to gender equity.

1. How I interact with and talk about women: modeling my belief that all people have value begins at home with how I treat the women in my family and how I talk about all women.

2. How I contribute to our home and family life: recognizing that the work I do in the home and with my family is just as valuable as the work I do outside the home.

3. How I respect my children: whatever my child’s gender is I try to respect them and their choices. They may not make the choices I would make but they are their own people.

4. How I teach my children: children of all genders have a right to be safe, strong and free. At the same time, they don’t have the right to restrict the rights of others. This is critical learning that we can teach in many ways.

5. How I teach my children to make decisions about their own bodies: teaching our children that their body is their own is a powerful message to them. We can do this by not forcing them to hug and kiss family members and by letting them make decisions about their own bodies.

Whether we are the fathers of boys, girls or children of any gender we can play a powerful role in supporting them thriving and moving towards a future in which all people can be safe, strong and free.

Tuval Dinner is a violence prevention educator specializing in healthy relationships, consent, gender equity and healthy masculinity. Tuval coordinates outreach and public education for COPA, a non-profit violence prevention education association.

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