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The year that turbocharged fatherhood



Major shifts occurred during 2020 to many facets of fathering and ‘what it means to be a dad’. These extraordinary changes in the home, workplace and community were reflected by the media and new research conducted over the last year.

Dad coming inside to greet his kids. Illustration Chris Johnston

Men, it seems, have been looking for more opportunities to spend time with family. Research on young fathers, conducted by the Diversity Council of Australia a few years ago, reported that 79 per cent of new generation dads wanted the flexibility to improve their work and family life. For all its downsides, 2020 provided the opportunities.

It’s now apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic’s ‘working from home’ and ‘home schooling’ requirements have turbocharged the pace of change.

A recent survey by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that from May to June 2020, 61 per cent of dads spent more time helping with learning and schoolwork; dads were doing arts and crafts, active play, video games and reading with the kids more often.

Australian research instigated by Transitioning Well came up with similar findings. De Mazio research published in December 2020, sampled 100 ‘working dads’ and found that 72 per cent of respondents had taken on more household responsibilities, both domestic and caring, during COVID-19.

Change is now sweeping through the business world with companies like Officeworks responding to men’s preferences to work flexibly from home.


"It’s now apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic’s ‘working from home’ and ‘home schooling’ requirements have turbocharged the pace of change."


Australian research on fathering gained momentum during 2020, revealing the unique ways that Australian fathers contribute to families. The Australian Institute of Family Studies, University of Newcastle and The Grattan Institute, among other research bodies, were rewriting the book on everything from dads' quality time with kids, to dads' rough and tumble play to reforming 'dad leave'.

Importantly, childcare is no longer being seen as mainly women’s responsibility. Dads school groups have sprung up everywhere to support this change. The Fathering Project, developed over the last few years, now engages over 11,000 dads and nearly 20,000 kids across 235 schools in Australia.

There was movement during 2020 away from the stereotypical portrayal of dads in the media as clueless and disconnected. Tune into the TV series Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and see Peter Gallagher who plays Mitch — a dad who comforts his daughter through her reverie sequences.

And kid’s TV is changing too. While Daddy Pig does a passable job fathering Peppa and George, the 2020 ‘leading man’ was a cartoon dog from the Brisbane suburbs — Bandit, the dad in Bluey.

And there was another extraordinary development taking place during the year with the emergence of online blogs supporting dads. I’m referring to blogs like Suit Tie Stroller, Gay Dads Australia and The Father Hood is a harbinger of this cultural shift — a brilliant enterprise by young dads supporting young dads.

There were signs too of changes in approaches to fathering across the community services sector breaking new ground in earlier intervention with dads and developing tool kits to help services engage and work with fathers. This was a big shift for a sector that is used to working almost exclusively with mothers.

Will many of these changes last into 2021 and beyond? There is every reason to think so because they work for everyone involved. Mums like them because there is greater sharing of the ups and downs of caring for children. Businesses like them because flexible work arrangements make them attractive workplaces. Dads like them because they have always wanted a better family life. And kids love the changes because they get to spend more time with their dads.



Mike KellyMike Kelly is a Geelong social worker with a special interest in fatherhood and early intervention with vulnerable families.  

Main image: Dad coming inside to greet his kids. Illustration Chris Johnston

Topic tags: Mike Kelly, fatherhood, Bluey, 2020



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Existing comments

How good is this? I am now an old lady and one of my joys during the lockdowns was watching loads of young dads walking babies in prams and pushers and playing ball games with there children in our local parks, not a mum in sight! Everyone looked happy and relaxed, and I loved it.

Jennifer Raper | 22 January 2021  

I think, in other times and places, fathers had more time to be with their families. COVID-19 has, to some extent, brought this situation back. When my children - two in their 40s and one mid 30s - were growing up I took them out in the weekends to give their mother, who wanted to be a fulltime housewife in the week, a break. Even when I became a separated father I tried to be as much part of their lives as I could. There were certain things they got from their mother and certain things they got from me, as well as what they got from the rest of their extended family. It takes a functional society, with perceivable role models, to enable children to become functional adults.

Edward Fido | 22 January 2021  

Your affirmation of fatherhood and its necessity is very welcome, Mike, and vital not only for families but also for society.

John RD | 24 January 2021  

My money's on Edward's response, not that of John RD. Parents are obviously important but so too are uncles, aunts, big sisters, extended family, close friends, teachers, coaches and all the other people who children can trust, in whom they can confide, and who walk with them and provide role models on their journey of development. It's the quality of trustworthiness that is essential, not gender, sex or sexual orientation as I think John RD is suggesting.

Ginger Meggs | 25 January 2021  

In response to Ginger Meggs: All other things being equal, the child’s having access to an extended family is to be preferred to one bound only to a family unit that has had no option, because of circumstances, but to remain nuclearized. This is because a felt fellowship of tribe offers greater economic and psychological benefits of scale than an atomised nuclear model. But the nuclear model itself cannot be fractured or reassembled by graft. Late in the day when the doors of its home are shut against the outside world, each child needs to see that it owns, is owed, and itself owes, a dedicated relationship based upon obligation to its immediate genetic forebears, a relationship that separated, divorced, blended, shared, and same-sex permutations (or, strictly speaking, mutations) upon the monogamous nuclear model of matrimony, being fractures and grafts, cannot give.

roy chen yee | 25 January 2021  

Ginger, The days of 'The parents have them, the village raises them' (if indeed the saying had any traction other than in rural folklore) appear to be well and truly behind us in our modern metropolises. However, despite changed circumstances, there is one constant that underlines the abiding importance of fatherhood: the unique intimacy of small children greeting their father with the un-transferable word "Dad" or "Daddy". The bond signified is an archetype of the trust you rightly affirm as essential for a child's well-being. I think it no accident that this was the distinctive mode of address used repeatedly by Jesus in his own prayer and in teaching his disciples how to pray. Society, I suggest, would be the poorer for ignoring or underestimating the value of fatherhood and filiality as personified in Christ's relationship with his heavenly Father and its theological and social relevance since this relationship, according to the Gospels, is based on equality, unity and love - each of them realities indispensable to individual flourishing and the common good.

John RD | 27 January 2021  

I don't think John RD was so much disagreeing with what I said, Ginger, as gently noting that the concept of being a man and a father has been much derided of late by the Neo-Marxist camp, which attacks the traditional concept of society and wishes to destroy and then reconstruct it along certain lines. I do not consider you a Neo-Marxist. I find the whole construct of 'patriarchy' an artificial one, deliberately set up to be attacked.

Edward Fido | 28 January 2021  

Well said, Edward.

John RD | 28 January 2021  

Edward, as a man, a son, and a father, of both biological and adopted children, I have no desire or intent to deride the concepts of being a man or a father. nor, for that matter, a woman, a mother, or a parent. Roy, yes, I emphatically agree with you that every child has the right to know and be known by her/his ‘genetic forebears’. That's not just for reasons of a practical heath-related type, but most importantly because it is central to each of us knowing who, what and why ‘I’ am. And yes, I agree that a nucleus of parents and children is centrally important to the upbringing of children but not that the only valid nucleus is one based on a genetic relationship between both parents and all children. To do so, would invalidate or make ‘second-class’ every adoptive or step-relationship that exists. It would be saying that the infant child of a widow or widower who remarried could not have a legitimate and valid parent child relationship with that new spouse and that a child, adopted into a two-parent family can never be in the same relationship with her or this adopting parents as her or his naturally-born siblings. If that is what you are saying, then I know, from experience, that that is absolutely wrong. John RD, I don’t think I have ever suggested that the role of parents is limited to ‘having them’ or that the responsibility for ‘raising them’ rests solely with the village. But ’my children’ are not my possessions, any more than my wife is my possession. We all have a responsibility for all children but that responsibility is not everywhere and for ever the same and undifferentiated. Parents, especially of young children have a much more focussed, intense, and continuous responsibility. And yes, the word Dad (or Mum) is gender specific. And yes, ‘equality, unity and love’, are indispensable to individual flourishing and the common good, but all three of these should be gender-blind.

Ginger Meggs | 29 January 2021  

Thanks for your clarifications, Ginger. I'm glad there are points of agreement. However, "gender-blindness" in matters of "equality, unity and love" seems possible only in Plato's abstract world of forms or ideas. It seems to me personal addresses such as "Dad" and "Mum", which you yourself recognise as gender-specific, have very direct and practical relevance in the real world of human being and experience, and resist reduction to merely idealised ideological abstraction.

John RD | 31 January 2021  

One of the important things Mike Kelly would do I believe, Ginger, is to attempt to make dysfunctional families more functional. This would include helping dysfunctional fathers become more functional. In some supposedly 'progressive' circles the idea of a functional, loving male is regarded as nonsense. This is Neo-Marxism par excellence and it is getting into schools and gender-based anti-violence programs. I am one for what I call 'responsible parenthood'. There are now children born who are drug addicted and/or drug affected in the womb. This is a dreadful thing. I believe children should be conceived, born and raised in a loving male/female monogamous relationship. Whilst I have tremendous respect for loving, conscientious adoptive or step parents, I think, if possible, the original nuclear family should be kept together.

Edward Fido | 02 February 2021  

Ginger Meggs: Sleight-of-hand is using the most traditional mutation of the nuclear bond, orphanhood, usually caused by circumstances outside adult deliberation, to excuse bonds deliberately created for children by adults asserting radical individual sovereignty. This is where the logic, or rather, since the Fall, the disordered logic, of atheism, departs from the logic of a theism that is emotionally involved in human affairs. The difference is that while it would be illogical for a child or parent in a functional nuclear relationship corresponding to the Genesis model to wish to be in another nuclear relationship, it would be logical for any orphan to have a wistful longing for how things might have been had a parent not been lost through death, or for its loving adopting/step parent always to accept that the situation caused for the child is one to be regretted because a better situation could have existed. As for the Do-It-Yourself mutations, it would be the illogic of denial not to admit that a child has been exiled from a natural parent under an excuse, by one or other adult, that ownership over a parent by a child from a distance is identical with ownership on the spot.

roy chen yee | 03 February 2021  

I think we hold our children in trusteeship for the Almighty, Roy and it is beholden upon us to bring them up in a loving, nurturing home to become decent adults. That being said, I think Mike and so many other social workers are trying to facilitate that without talking Theology.

Edward Fido | 05 February 2021  

Edward Fido: ‘without talking Theology’. Whether conscious of it or not, we each live in conformity with some type of moral philosopy. We are raised in its inheritance. Norms of behaviour don’t jump into people’s heads out of nowhere. They are imbibed from work that intellectual institutions, religious or secular, have been made responsible over time to devise, enunciate and defend so the rest of us can go efficiently about our day knowing what is right and wrong. That is why taxpayers fund faculties of arts (and congregants fund their pastors). Constantly having to reinvent our moral stances because we don’t know what fundamental principles to hold is inefficient. As it so happens, the traditional principles of Christianity, unlike those of atheistic materialism, don’t ultimately lead their adherents up the Socratic garden path to the cul-de-sac of self-contradiction, an example of which is a child denied not by Chance or Fate but by human planning of an intimate relationship with a genetic parent. Given, then, that it is our job to talk moral philosophy, and that Christian moral philosophy, on rational grounds, stands its ground more robustly than secular moral philosophy, why not talk 'Theology'?

roy chen yee | 05 February 2021  

Dear Roy, accusing me of ‘sleight of hand’ (by which I assume you mean ’deceitful craftiness’ rather than ‘dexterity and skill’) doesn’t cut the rug or convince anyone, so please let’s focus on the question I posed. Are you really saying that an adopted child or a step child must be, by definition, an outsider in an otherwise loving, caring, family, just because s/he is not of the same genetic stock as her/his siblings, or have I misunderstood you ? Yes or no?

Ginger Meggs | 09 February 2021  

Amen Edward. I couldn't agree more on the stewardship role of parents - natural, step, adoptive or whatever. - that you describe. As for the role of 'theology', I think all of us could point to some examples of where the influence of 'theology', even Christian theology, has had some pretty negative effects on the growth and development of children.

Ginger Meggs | 09 February 2021  

Ginger Meggs, you mis-focus on irrelevancies: ‘because s/he is not of the same genetic stock as her/his siblings’. Think ‘parent’. Your examples are limited to orphans brought into a new household by their bereaved parent or an orphan from elsewhere rescued from a situation of no-parent. These are examples of inclusion very close to the genetically-related nuclear model. You could have mentioned even now the exclusions that are children who sleep in a different house because a parent has decided to live somewhere else, or children who have to share a genetic parent with half-siblings who didn’t exist before the parent moved house, or a genetic parent who has become a parent to somebody else’s children when they have two parents of their own, with both of whom they should be living. Not to mention the trophy of a child in a same-sex household with a vestigial genetic parent out of sight and meant to be out of mind. If you have two living genetic parents who aren’t by choice sleeping in the same house as you, one of them has exiled you and made you a second class child. Children weren’t born to be separated from their life-givers.

roy chen yee | 10 February 2021  

There are NO second class children Roy. And NO child is a 'trophy'.

Ginger Meggs | 11 February 2021  

I think you've lost the plot in needless prolixity, Roy. No one is suggesting the traditional two parent, faithful, stable monogamous family is not the desired norm. When this is not the case it makes it harder for all concerned.

Edward Fido | 11 February 2021  

Ginger Meggs: ‘There are NO second class children Roy. And NO child is a 'trophy'.’ Second-class children and trophy children are made by adults. So, prove that there are no adults making them. Again, you’re mis-focusing. Think ‘parent’ (or, maybe, ‘wayward parent’). By the way, it is customary for an opinion, to be credible, to be supported by some visible reasoning.

roy chen yee | 11 February 2021  

Ginger Meggs: ‘There are NO second class children Roy. And NO child is a 'trophy'.’ Second-class children and trophy children are made by adults. So, prove that there are no adults making them. Again, you’re mis-focusing. Think ‘parent’ (or, maybe, ‘wayward parent’). By the way, it is customary for an opinion, to be credible, to be supported by some visible reasoning, even one punctuated by shouting.

roy chen yee | 11 February 2021  

Edward Fido: ‘No one is suggesting the traditional two parent, faithful, stable monogamous family is not the desired norm.’ Yes, and President Xi Jinping will, I am sure, be absolutely sincere when he says that harmonious trade between China and Australia is the desired norm. Why would he even believe otherwise? But what you suggest while you do what you do are two different things, as the new lives of the separated and the divorced attest. Anyway, you’re wrong. Gay couples would suggest that ‘traditional’ is not the desired norm.

roy chen yee | 11 February 2021  

Dear Roy, no parent, whatever their genetic relationship, gender or living arrangements, ‘makes’ a child second class or a trophy. The adults who would, if they could, make them second class and trophies are those adults who seek, as I think you do, to define them as such because their parents do not conform with your views of what is right and wrong. I don’t think you understand how harmful those labels like ‘fallen woman’, ‘bastard child’, ‘unmarried mother’, ‘fag’, can be. Just like the terms ‘half-caste’, ‘refo’, ’nigger’, ‘chink’, ‘wog’, and all the rest of them. They not only damage the person so named but also the person who uses them because they prevent the user from seeing the other as a real person or, as you might say, a child of God.

Ginger Meggs | 13 February 2021  

Ginger Meggs: ‘The adults who would, if they could, make them second class and trophies are those adults who seek, as I think you do, to define them as such because their parents do not conform with your views of what is right and wrong.’ Yes, they are ‘second class’ as a result of their parents not conforming to my view, grounded, I think, not only in Magisterium but also in provable rationality. There is no formal category of, say, ‘second class citizen’ in democratic societies but the colloquial meaning is clear: any person who is denied access to rights and privileges commonly enjoyed by their peers, usually as a result of some social disadvantage. A normal child has an undefinable mass of benefits that results from 24/7/365 access to two genetic parents living under its roof. A sort of connected concept is ‘connubium’. Parents who deliberately exile a child from the benefits of that arrangement cause it disadvantage and, so, turn it into a second class child. Because individuals in society are connected to each other in the present and to as yet unknown peers in the future, a bell tolling for a second class child tolls for everybody.

roy chen yee | 14 February 2021  

Ginger Meggs: ‘harmful those labels’ In any situation, there will be clots trying to make comedy for themselves out of a serious situation.

roy chen yee | 14 February 2021  

Thanks Roy. Can we agree that it’s not the children themselves that you assert are second class, but rather the environment or setting or conditions in which they are placed ? This is not a subtle difference. Even in the example you provide of a ‘second class citizen’, it’s not that the person her/himself is ‘second class’, rather that they are treated AS IF (I’m not shouting here but I can’t do italics) they WERE second class.. Some things can be second class, eg a second class passage, a second class honours, a second class product, but they are second class because of what they are. People can't be second class. If we can agree on that, then I think we can then move on to discuss whether or not non-traditional family settings as you would define them are NECESSARILY second class settings. Is that a useful suggestion ?

Ginger Meggs | 15 February 2021  

Ginger Meggs: ‘If we can agree on that, then I think we can then move on…’ Is this one of those high-level diplomatic games where one side wants the other side to give something before it will start talking? A blog/thread/whatever is a chat, not just to the other party, but to everybody on it, all of whom, far from being exalted, are equal lowies . Here, the world is your oyster. Go ahead with what’s on your mind. If we can use ‘second class citizen’, we can use ‘second class child’.

roy chen yee | 16 February 2021  

Roy, like many other visitors to ES, I despair at having a reasoned and rational conversation with you. Every attempt at such by anyone is turned by you into an arm wrestle.

Ginger Meggs | 17 February 2021  

Some things you just can't make up: in reasonable and rational despair, 'wrestle' is your best grieving choice for censure? While there is a story about Jacob and an angel? Whoever these many other despairing visitors to ES are, I hope they read their script before they try to write one. Meanwhile, feel free to return to the shop floor to work on why we can't use second class child when we can use second class citizen.

roy chen yee | 17 February 2021  

Ginger, Roy's gnomic outpourings remind me of Nigel Molesworth, who is himself a parody. I found there is no sense in talking to Roy, so I just boycott him.

Edward Fido | 19 February 2021  

Edward Fido: If Molesworth speaks sense, his inability to spell mocks snobbery. If Molesworth misspells nonsense, he is mocking dyslexics as stupid and these censorious times will relegate him to the same place for the obsolete and the antiquated as they did the Confederate flag, if they first don’t burn Searle in effigy. Pogo’s doing well. If Molesworth does too, you will have shown a benevolent talent for turning fools into gold.

roy chen yee | 19 February 2021  

It's worse than I thought with you, Roy. You cannot enjoy satire for what it is and treat it as a dreadfully serious 'interdellectual challinge' as Nigel Molesworth would say. The late Roy Willans was parodying the absurd system of English preparatory schools and their hierarchical structure, not attacking dyslexics or anyone else. As I said, I gave up on you long ago. It's hopeless trying to engage with you.

Edward Fido | 22 February 2021  

Yes Edward, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Like you, and many people here, I’ve tried more than once to have a polite conversation with Roy but he doesn’t seem do polite conversation. Which is a pity, but such is life.

Ginger Meggs | 23 February 2021  

Name-dropping Molesworth and asserting that he is a parody of the prep school system doesn’t tell us how he is a parody, unless you think everybody still lives in 1957. Prep schools are expensive, private primary schools preparing their pupils to sit for an exam to get into the secondary private schools, or ‘public schools’, like Eton, Harrow, etc. Is Geoffrey Willans parodying the Cockney-sounding working classes who pay substantial money to get their progeny into the upper classes? Is he having a go at working class Tories? As most Molesworths, one presumes, pass the comp to get into a public school, what’s the purpose of the poor spelling? The upper classes may not be able to think but they can spell. ‘[P]arodying the absurd system’: Is Molesworth in the tradition of the jester, the wise supposed fool who uses gibberish, eg., ‘any fule kno’, to critique the elites? Jesters parody snobbery but they themselves are not parodies. It makes no sense to parody a jester. This is how name-dropping without adducing evidence works: ‘Edward, old chap, times have changed. We don’t do Beano and Carry On anymore.’ If the Decalog can be explained, so can everything else.

roy chen yee | 24 February 2021  

Ginger Meggs: ‘and many people here’ I don’t remember conversing with more than a few regulars. I take it, channelling Giuliani, you are talking about those people whose votes for Trump were not counted?

roy chen yee | 25 February 2021  

Yet again Roy you decline to address the substantive part of my post, that 'Roy does not 'do' polite conversation'. Which, as I said, is a pity. Take a leaf from John RD's book. He and I seldom agree but we can converse politely.

Ginger Meggs | 04 March 2021  

Ginger Meggs: ‘the substantive part of my post, that 'Roy does not 'do' polite conversation'. There are nine posts above to which you can refer to prove your thesis. Instead, you provide an opinion and no reasoning. The convention is that if you want to allege something, you have to prove it first.

roy chen yee | 05 March 2021  

Roy, in your attempt to be deep here and to put me and everyone else down, you remind me of these lines from Shakespeare 'He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous' Julius Caesar Act 1, Scene 2. It was the manner of thinking and the envisaged result Shakespeare put in the mouth of the speaker that are important. As the Scots say, I have no idea whether you have 'the wit tae ken'. The world the late Roy Willans was writing of, a world that seems to be out of your cultural reference, although you seem to be a dab hand at Wikipedia, is one he looked back with a wry sense of humour as a former public school student and master. It was an ancient public school in the West of England, from where my family originally hale. It is not, as a pompous Old Etonian or Harrovian would say "First Division". Snobbery is an archetypal English vice. Willans was gently sending up the idea that those who had an expensive public school education were any 'better' than their supposed 'inferiors'. St Custard's is a dreadful place in every way. So were most preparatory schools of that era. Nigel Molesworth, a purely fictional character, was an intellectual escape valve. I remember my prep school days. They mercifully ended when we came out here. Deo gratias alleluia!

Edward Fido | 12 March 2021  

Oops. My 'Molesworthian slip': 'hale' for 'hail'. Those prep school years: endless beatings for not doing compulsory homework; bland English stodge; long runs through the dripping Oxfordshire countryside in Semi-Arctic conditions; no heating in the dorms and endless 'elevating addresses' by a long deceased 'mad headmaster' obviously had a horrific effect on me. Fortunately it closed long ago!

Edward Fido | 12 March 2021