“No matter where you’re from, being a father changes you,” says Majid. But undertaking this new adventure in a new land, far from your original homeland, far from familiar landmarks, makes the challenge even bigger. Here, then, is an overview of the issues encountered by fathers who have immigrated to Québec.
By Takwa Souissi
Majid arrived from Pakistan at age 34. He met his Québécoise wife here, and together they have three children, all born here.
Right up front, he mentions the solitude of his parental experience. He also admits that he’s had to adapt to a culture in which fatherhood is treated very differently than in the culture in which he was brought up.
He finds it normal that he’d act according to his home culture’s norms: “I find that here parents have less authority,” he says. “In my mind, a country needs a president, and a family needs a leader.”
This perception gap often recurs in the way immigrant fathers see their role, says Stéphane Hernandez, counsellor and social worker at the CIUSSS West-Central Montréal for 20 years. He’s seen many immigrant fathers in his years there, and quickly became interested in their reality, going so far as to conduct a study of them for his master’s degree.
“They have the impression that their new homeland society is more individualistic, and that includes for the children,” Hernandez observes.
It’s important that the social worker count on this natural and necessary parental authority, all the while recognizing that it may play out differently in Québec. “The last thing we want to do is to look down from on high and tell them what to do,” says Hernandez. “To build bridges, we must first of all recognize the sacrifices and the efforts made by a father who chose to leave his country, and respect the emotions he’s experienced.”
And there are plenty of emotions. In the literature on the subject, we see two possibilities for the immigrant father.
On one hand, the stresses of immigration could weaken the family unit, given that the father would be less present on a daily basis in order to better fulfil his role as a provider. But these same stressors could also cause a father to redefine himself and occupy a greater role within the family. These two hypotheses come from Prof. Christine Gervais, a nurse and researcher at the Sherpa University Institute: Immigration, Diversity and Health.
She conducted a study of 45 students aged 6 to 14 who had recently immigrated here. “What came out most was a confirmation of my second hypothesis,” Gervais observes. “The children said their father was doing more things with them since they got to Canada. Different kinds of involvement were also reported: helping with their homework, doing chores, family outings.” The absence of extended relatives at hand required fathers to become more involved with taking care of the kids.
“It’s disrupting at first, even if it’s only being present for the birth! But afterwards, they are proud.”
Paternal involvement in family matters is an issue rarely explored by the media, Gervais explains. “There’s less attention paid to fathers, even if the majority of children in Montreal have at least one parent born outside of Canada. The child has to bridge the gap between their culture of origin and the culture they live in now.”
Parenting is one of the dimensions of life that is influenced by culture. Who has to take care of the child? How? What gets punished? What expectations are there? What is the father’s role? Answers will vary from one continent to another.