Saturday, 21 May 2011

Riyadh Fathers Outings - Secret Mans Business!

My Dad with the kids.
It has become common place, I noted on my recent trip back home, to regularly see men taking their children on Fathers Outings for an hour or two, or sometimes for the day, to give mum a break.  Mr Glenn used to keep the kids out of my hair as they were growing up, but usually by bribing them with a trip to McDonalds.  Sitting and reading at the park?  Not so much.  The amount of paternal interaction happening at home made me realise that Fathers Outings in Riyadh is not something I've noticed so much.

It was quite uplifting seeing groups of Dad’s walking the parks with prams, picnicking with their sons and daughters and helping them out on the slides and swings.  Playing catch or showing their youngsters how to lick ice cream so it doesn’t run all over their little hands.

Dads changing the baby’s nappy. Dads leaning against tree trunks with a child under each arm reading Thomas the Tank Engine (or something similar). Dads’ taking their brood to a cafĂ© after a fun day of play and ordering Baby Chinos. Yes, such visions certainly warm the heart.

There are two possible reasons why I haven't seen this style of participatory fathering in Saudi.  (There are probably lots more reasons, but I’ll settle on these two).

Have you ever done that mental exercise where you look around the room and take note of everything that is brown and then, once you leave the room, you have to name everything that was blue.  The point being if you don't focus on it, you don't see it.

Until recently, Saudi fathering styles were not on my radar.  My thoughts, to date, have been focused mostly on what women can and cannot do.  This all changed last week when I spent a day on ‘Saudi Dad Watch’.

What did I see?

I spotted young boys, aged around 4 or 5, decked out in thobe and ghutra, walking the malls with Dad (or some male equivalent) and they look so cute.

There were a couple of Dads doing supermarket shopping with their younsters and a few others keeping an eye on the children at the Fun Park.

One Dad was carrying his daughter, aged around three years, from the car to the footpath and chatting the whole time before setting her on the path, taking her hand, and heading into the shop - no mother in sight.

Glenn has been invited home to dinner with a Saudi friend and reported back that he met his one year old daughter - who really is a cutie - and Dad is so proud of her.

The other day a Dad was picniking with his little family and, while Mum fed the baby, he took the two boys off to play football.  Granted, they weren't a Saudi family, but it was good to see Dad and sons enjoying their time.

By far the largest display of Saudi style participatory fathering that I have ever seen was at Janadriyah the other week (Riyadh’s biggest cultural event).   Loads of young fathers wheeling pushchairs and keeping an eye on the youngsters while mums were obviously enjoying their day out, sifting their way through trinkets and displays.

This is the face of Saudi’s fathering their youngsters……and it’s quite normal really.  I’m not sure what I expected when I started out on my ‘Saudi Dad Watch’.

One can get quite negative about this society and its rules and activities that seem to favour the men so they have all the fun.

Although I’ve heard that the women are expected to raise the children, it is nice to see the Dad’s have something to do with that process other than carting the whanau to dinner at restaurants.  I’m not sure if their participation stretches to nappy changing – when I find that out, I’ll keep you posted.

There is another aspect of Saudi Fathering that I don’t get to observe - the gender segregation of this society means I have no idea what the males get up to in their 'men only' times and 'men only' places.

Glenn and I were having a debate about this one day.
Actually, I was debating, he was

It is my understanding, though I'm not sure because I haven't yet cracked that manly sanctum, that ‘men only’ days and events actually means ‘male only' and implies, obviously, that Mr Saudi Man is able to take his sons along with him at these gender specific times (though I’m not sure that includes the baby due to the nappy changing aspects) while the girls get left with Mum.  I do wonder what type of bonding occurs at these times.  Is this when Dad’s would do things like play catch, read books under trees, discuss the ways of the world and generally bond with their boys?  Or are the sons left to run wild at the park with a whole buch of other boys while Dad has qahwah with the other fathers talking politics and such?

My moko bonding with her Dad
Sending the Glen-meister to the ‘men only’ time at the zoo, so he can report back about Fathers Outings in Riyadh, is one way we could find answers to the questions of secret mens business  -  unfortunately, he’s not that keen and I really can't understand why not!

Ka Kite,

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