Breadwinners No More: A New Take on Fatherhood

Graphic Design: Krizia Angelina

The National Father’s Day in Indonesia was first initiated by women who joined Perkumpulan Putra Ibu Pertiwi (PPIP) to appreciate the role of a father in the family. On November 12, 2006, PPIP declared Father’s Day simultaneously in Solo, Central Java and Maumere, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara. After the declaration, they sent a charter and a book called “Kenangan Buat Ayah” (Memories for Fathers) to former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) and regents in four areas across Indonesia, namely Sabang, Merauke, Sangir Talaud, and Pulau Rote. Since then, November 12 is observed as the Indonesian National Father’s Day.

However, the popularity of the National Father’s Day is still far less than the Mother’s Day. For that reason, INADIS researcher Kanya Damarçanti reached out to Syaldi Sahude, one of the New Men’s Alliance (Aliansi Laki-laki Baru/ALB)’s collective coordinators, to find out more about the National Father’s Day.

INADIS: Hi Mas Syaldi, thank you for providing your time to be interviewed by INADIS.

SS: Hello, Kanya. No worries. As a start, can I give a brief history history of ALB? Is that okay?

INADIS: Yes, that’s fine.

SS: So, ALB is actually not an organisation, not, we, it can be said, we claim ourselves as a movement. At first, my friends and I liked to discuss, we happened to have the same vision and questions, why did when we work in women organisations—I was working at the Yayasan Jurnal Perempuan before, and then some of my friends worked at the Rifka Annisa Women’s Crisis Centre Jogjakarta and at the Yayasan PULIH Jakarta—we often wondered why all this time the anti violence against women campaigns always targeted women, although we all knew that the main problem was men. Who are the main perpetrators if not the majority of men? Take example the domestic violence. Apart from violence against children where women sometimes take part, the majority of perpetrators in domestic violence are men. And then there’s a research from Rifka Annisa Jogja, which found that around 85% of women who became victims of domestic violence were coming back to their abusive partners. So we have empowered those women, we have finished the process, but then they went back to their abusive partners. So we thought that there must be someone or something that also targets men in the anti violence against women campaign. Inspired by White Ribbon Campaign in Canada, we decided to make a similar movement.

INADIS: Okay, so in the beginning ALB wanted to eliminate violence against women through men’s participation.

SS: Yes, but at first we weren’t planning to make an organisation. We just provided a forum that served as a safe zone for men to share about their problems, their relationships, and their works. Starting from there, and then after 1-2 years, at first our target was only to provide reading materials on men’s involvement in anti violence campaign because in Indonesia they were scarce and limited, and most of them were in English. So we finally tried to make a website, social media as a channel to spread awareness about why men are crucial to be involved in eliminating violence against women. But now ALB has grown and developed, so it’s not only about eliminating violence against women. For example, now we want to encourage men, fathers, to be more involved in feminine issues such as parenting, and how to nurture emotional closeness with their spouses and children because for all this time, it’s only the masculine side that gets bombarded, and that’s the toxic masculinity, which is dangerous.

INADIS: Toxic masculinity?

SS: Yes, people said that raising and taking care of children can decrease one’s masculinity. “Oh, you won’t be able to do anything, you won’t be respected by your children.” Something like that. On the contrary, my friend who is a stay-at-home dad is happier. His wife has a better career prospect. So why not? He said, “Why don’t I give her more room to chase her career whilst I do the domestic work?” At the same time, we also found that the society is over glorifying men who cook or carry their children. I think that’s way too much. Because, so what if a man carries his baby? Let’s say, we don’t have to go too far. My female friends, when whey saw a man carrying a baby, like Brad Pitt, they all went crazy, “Wooooow!” But when Brad Pitt’s partner, eh, now ex, Angelina Jolie, carried their children, they saw it as something ordinary. So it looks like it has to be Brad Pitt who carries a child and people go crazy. But when Angelina Jolie does the same, people will think, “That’s her job because she’s a woman.” That’s the kind of value that we want to change. It’s okay to appreciate men who carry their children, but don’t over glorify. Because taking care of children, carrying children, that’s parents’ responsibility, not just the wife or the father’s responsibility, but both of them. That’s what we’re pushing forward now. And this is related to Father’s Day.

INADIS: So what about Father’s Day? What do you think about it? 

SS: I can’t say for other countries, but in Indonesian context, I disagree with Father’s Day, because first, as you said yesterday, it was women who initiated the day. And if you reread the reason, wait, I’ll search it again to make sure if my knowledge is still valid (opening web search). Okay, so it is because that, they initiated Father’s Day to appreciate fathers as protectors, breadwinners, and significant figures in families. Okay. But that’s like over glorifying, giving excessive appreciation, because, well, yeah, I think, I prefer if there’s Parents’ Day instead. Because parents are not, there are single parents. Especially in modern situations where there are more single parents, I agree more with Parents’ Day. But nevermind it, SBY has inaugurated Father’s Day in 2006. We are very critical of Father’s Day, but we can’t say there’s no Father’s Day because it’s a national day and that’s Mr. President’s policy. So we try to change the value of Father’s Day. We want to build a new image of fathers so that fathers are no longer seen as rigid, authoritarian figures who make all decisions, or fathers who only become ATM machines (chuckle). Well, that was what I experienced. If I needed attention, I’d go to my mother. But if I needed money I’d go to my father. But I didn’t have that emotional connection with him. That’s the drive behind our motivation to change the value of Father’s Day. We want to change the value of fatherhood from being a family protector, a breadwinner, we want to change all that, we want to make ideal fathers who are kind, want to be involved in childcare, domestic chores, as well as are willing to give a room for their spouses to make decisions, faithful, and not using violence against their wives and children and other people. That’s what we want to push forward.

INADIS: Okay, that sounds like a good reason. But why we rarely hear about Father’s Day in Indonesia? Why is it less popular than Mother’s Day?

From our past experience, we’ve also learnt that if we want to intervene and change something, both men and women need to be intervened. That’s why we put men’s involvement programme into women’s empowerment programme. We’ve tried to intervene only the men but failed. And if it was only the women, it could work but very slow.

SS: First of all, looking from the easiest side, it’s quite new, whereas Mother’s Day has been celebrated for decades, since Suharto, eh Sukarno’s era and is massively celebrated as a part of efforts to domesticate women. So we criticized it as well. It was actually the day of the women’s movement, why was it later degraded as Mother’s Day? We know that women are not always mothers. It’s possible that she never married, or maybe a single parent. You’d have to be married and have children to be called a mother. So what if she isn’t married? Is she not a part of the women’s movement? That’s also the reason why we criticized Mother’s Day. So we criticized everything. Because we see it as the Women’s Movement Day, the day to commemorate the first Indonesian Women Congress. That’s one thing, because of the length of time. Then, the concept of fatherhood itself, it is still strange for Indonesian people because it’s, it’s a bit confusing to say, but father figures are always seen as stiff, authoritarian, what is it, uhm, well, how was your experience with your father? Maybe it’s a bit different, but if it's my father, I'm not able to connect with him emotionally. So then people thought, “Why fathers need to be appreciated and Father’s Day need to be celebrated?” Plus, there aren’t many campaigns on Father’s Day. When it comes to Mother’s Day, there’s the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment that encourages the celebration. But not with Father’s Day. There’s no one who promotes it. I think that’s also the reason, not many campaigns on Father’s Day.

INADIS: In that case, do you think it’s important to encourage Father’s Day celebration, or do you think we need a new day, like Parents’ Day for example?

SS: Well, for us, we’ve agreed to utilize the already available day. But what we actually want is to change the meaning or value behind that celebration. I don’t know about other countries, but in Indonesia, we sometimes simplify a celebration. For example Kartini Day. We’ve turned it into Kebaya Day. Then we simplify Mother’s Day as the day when our mothers won’t need to do anything, that us the children or the fathers who will do the house chores. Now, how are we going to simplify Father’s Day? I’m a bit worried. That’s why we want to give a new meaning to Father’s Day. We want fathers to be appreciated as anti violence agents, faithful, always encouraging an equal family process, who then build emotional closeness to their children and spouses. That’s what we’re trying to do right now. To think fathers as breadwinners, protectors, et cetera, is outdated. It’s been too long. We need to change that.

INADIS: How do you change that?

SS: We’re focusing on fathers-to-be and young adults who are planning to get married. We don’t use complicated approach, only practical approach, like how to become a good father. We don’t use gender or feminism issue in the beginning to avoid resistance. We simply start from parenting issue, such as men’s involvement in the domestic area. From our past experience, we’ve also learnt that if we want to intervene and change something, both men and women need to be intervened. That’s why we put men’s involvement programme into women’s empowerment programme. We’ve tried to intervene only the men but failed. And if it was only the women, it could work but very slow.

INADIS: And how is it going so far?

SS: It’s a slow process but we’re heading there. Surprisingly, I’ve met new fathers who felt the same way. At least 70% men I’ve met who have just become fathers agreed to not use the same methods as their parents’, especially their fathers’ methods. All this time, the father figures they knew were full of violence, angry, stiff, authoritarian, and they said, “I don’t want to be like that. I want to be closer to my children, I want to love my wife more, I want to do the domestic works, I want to raise or bathe my baby.” That’s so interesting and made me feel like, “Wow, this is a surprise!” It turned out that even without we realizing it, there are more people who want to do that.

INADIS: What about your parents or the older generation’s view of fatherhood? How does that differ from yours and how do you overcome it?

SS: That’s what I’ve been experiencing since a long time ago. When I first knew about gender equality and other things, actually I’ve always wanted to be a stay-at-home dad. When it comes to my parents, I’ve tried to adapt, talk to them, engage in a debate, and one time it was getting rather fiercely, so it was like we were angry at each other. But then I thought it was unfair to force them to follow my thoughts and view, so yeah, that was their time, that was what they learnt, that was what they believed as their value. What need to be changed then are the next generations and ourselves. That’s what we need to change. Because if we try to change the older generation, I think, it’s not useless, it’s too extreme, but yeah, it’s enough. If we argue with them, instead of getting closer to each other, we’ll grow further. So we have to compromise. So they can believe in anything they want to believe, but what I believe, they can’t intervene. For instance, I prefer to work from home so I can do other stuff from home. But my parents believe that working is 9 to 5, leaving home at 8 and coming back at 5, and receive the salary by the end of the month. That’s their concept. Whereas our generation, the millennials, believe that you can work from anywhere. Like me, Alhamdulillah, I can work from anywhere and on what I like. And I prove it to my parents that I can survive, that I can still earn money. So they were like, “Oh, you’re working from home but you still earn something.” Because they have never thought that it was possible to work like that. After they could see the result, slowly I brought up the stay-at-home dad issue. So they could see, “Oh, so it’s possible to work from home and take care of the children and do the domestic works.” So we don’t have to argue with each other, we just have to show them that it’s possible. I think they prefer to see the outcome rather than the process. If they can see the outcome, they’ll trust the process. When they can see the process, they’ll ask, “How do you do it?” When they ask the process, it means that they’ve become curious. That’s the time for us to talk deeper with them. We can’t just argue, we can’t give them theories, reading materials, they have to see the outcome and then they will change their mind, “Oh, okay, that can work too.”

INADIS: Last question from me, do you have any message for all the men out there, especially the young ones who want to be fathers or just recently became fathers?

SS: This is difficult. Hmm, what kind of message? I’ve been asked the same question over and over again but I always found it difficult to answer. Because if, what, hmm, for us, change must begin from ourselves. If men, if he wants to be a father, if he decides to be a father, he has to try building values that are more democratic, equal, loving. Because, believe me, your family will be more harmonious, will be more, it will have more benefits emotionally, and intellectually more beneficial for the next generation. So it starts from ourselves and for the future generation, because as we’ve talked earlier, it’s hard to change the older generation. And it’s time for us to create a new concept that is more equal, anti violence. That’s my message for the young people.

INADIS: That’s really interesting. Now we’ve gained more information about Father’s Day and men’s involvement in domestic area. Thank you, Mas Syaldi for the insights.

SS: You’re welcome, Kanya.