The human side of the gender duty

5th January 2007 at 00:00
Stephen Harvey is on a manhunt. He is trying to trace a poet called Jim Morrison. Nothing to do with The Doors, his poem, "Supermen Are Always Lonely People", was featured in Chapman literary magazine in 1978, but all attempts to trace him have proved unsuccessful.

Now, the same poem appears in a calendar produced by the charity Children in Scotland, entitled Fathers' Footsteps Calendar 2007. It offers 12 poems, all showing differing images of fatherhood, and is illustrated by Scottish schoolchildren.

Mr Harvey, co-ordinator of Children in Scotland's Children, Fathers and Fatherhood project, which is funded by the Scottish Executive and managed in partnership with EOC Scotland and Fathers Direct, has travelled the length and breadth of the country to discuss the poems with students, pupils, teachers, fathers and fatherhood groups. Part of his job involves consulting with officials about legislation, such as the gender duty, but he wanted to explore a more creative approach to the issue.

"The positive duty will require public bodies to consider the different needs and expectations of men and women in their policy-making, service delivery and employment practices. This could have a significant impact on the way that services relate to dads.

"The poems in the calendar present a wide range of father-child relationships and illustrate why strong father-child relationships are so important," he says.

His tour included a weekend with Sanquhar Primary's fathers' group (a weekend which included Fathers' Day) and a discussion group on the film Purely Belter (dealing with difficult father-child relationships) at the Kintyre Youth Enquiry Service.

"I felt that a creative approach to the way we look at things and through it engage with people emotionally was more likely to change people's attitudes and help them look at things in a different way than purely giving them statistics and research findings."

He adds that the language of legislation and policies cannot capture many important insights about fathers and fathering.

A former teacher of English and creative writing, he tried to get the children he talked to on his poetic odyssey to discuss what it was like to be a dad and their own experiences of being a son or daughter. A key message from "Fathers and Sons" by Pat Morrissey is that just because you've experienced poor parenting yourself, doesn't mean you too will be a bad father. In it, the poet describes his father as "a man's man who counted out my junior years with an open hand or a closed fist" but who "never scored domestic triumphs like this - bathing the kids on my own for the first time".

The foreword to the calendar is written by the Scottish actor Gary Lewis, who plays the dad in the film Billy Elliot. He writes: "For some children, the absence of a caring father figure can be a cause of great difficulties as they grow up. And for some fathers, unjustifiable barriers placed between them and their children can cause great anguish."

Mr Harvey adds: "It is to be hoped that the gender equality duty will help redress the imbalance and improve children's lives. The negative effects of the loss of, or lack of contact with, positive father figures have been clearly evidenced in recent studies. Good father-child relationships benefit not only children and fathers, but also mothers, families, communities and society in its entirety."

Anyone with information about the poet Jim Morrison should get in touch with Stephen Harvey at Children in Scotland,E sharvey@childreninscotland.org.uk. Mr Harvey can be contacted by schools who would like him to talk to pupils and staff about the gender equality duty in the context of his fatherhood project.

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