Interview with Eberhard Schäfer, the founder of Fathers’ Center (Väterzentrum) in Berlin
Dear Eberhard, what made You found a centre for fathers in Berlin?
I found that, one the one hand, caring, or committed, fatherhood was very much favoured and seen as an important issue on the gender equality agenda, but, on the other hand, nothing was implemented to help fathers be caring fathers, like combining work and family better, or inform them about the importance of caring fatherhood for the development of children, etc. I thought there should be support for caring fatherhood as an indeed important issue. This is why I initiated the Fathers´ Center.
How did the experts and politicians in Germany welcome your idea?
We are a regional NGO, we address fathers in Berlin, so we are seen as a regional player. There were split reactions. One side was a great appreciation, the need for support for “good fatherhood” was seen. On the other hand, there was doubt or suspicion – many persons thought we were a militant group fighting against mothers, and/or fighting for rights of fathers.
And what about the public reception? Did Berliners understand the aims of your centre?
This is very much like “official” reactions. Some understood our commitment and our programmes and they joined in, and luckily more and more followed. On the other hand, for many it´s not an easy step to participate in our programmes and events. The reason for this is, see above, many have the notion that we are a “Fathers Rights” group. Many just can´t think that there could be something like “support” for fathers. Mothers often are the first responders – they contact us, and then they send their partners!
Who are your primary target groups?
Fathers in any respect- Fathers-to be; young fathers, fathers in parental leave status, fathers facing separation or divorce, seeking for solutions to sty a good father for their children, stepfathers, gay fathers. Plus mothers or new partners of separated fathers. The whole picture of fatherhood, or, the father-child-relationship.
Looking back 10-15 years, what major changes would you mention in Germany concerning fathers issues?
Now it is seen as normal that a father will walk through his neighbourhood with his baby in the stroller. It has also become common, accepted and to the most extent valued that fathers will take parental leave. Plus, it´s more or less common sense that fathers are important for the development of their children, including that fathers and children should keep close bonds after separation and divorce. All this wasn´t quite as common ten years ago.
What are the most urgent topics about fathers’ role in your country now?
From our point of view, the No. 1 topic still is thinking about the role of the fathers. Still, this is mostly seen as the mothers best assistant and supporter. Instead, we keep on arguing that the father should be seen and treated as the “other” primary caregiver with abilities and potential just like a mother. From this, we feel that fathers should be more addressed to take a larger share (more weeks or months) of parental leave. Then, the fathers role after separation or divorce is on the agenda. Shared parenting is the issue and perspective here, to the benefit of children.
In Hungary studies show that young couples want more children than they finally have. What about young people in Germany?
Same picture here. I think this is just normal. Once you have one or two children you might find, they need so much commitment and care that you just don´t want to afford even more 😉
Regarding paternal leave : What does an average German father do after his child is born?
Most fathers take 2 or three months. But the number of those who take 6 or more months is rising.
Can You describe the current function of the centre now?
We are more and more seen as an example for best practice in working with fathers, and we as the professionals working here are more and more seen es experts who in a way know what fathers are like in Germany.
What result or action of the Fathers’ Centre are you the most proud of? 🙂
Perhaps not a single action, but the general development and picture that we can show after 11 years of practice. Plus: We had 2000 participants celebrating our 10th anniversary with us.
What plans do you have for the next 3-5 years? After what results would you lay back in your armchair comfortably?:)
We will very much focus on ideas and solutions for shared parenting after separation/divorce. We will further develop programmes for fathers to share about good solutions after separation & divorce. I´m afraid I won´t ever be in a state that allows me to to lay back in my armchair. Besides, I don´t have an armchair.
Finally, can we invite You to Hungary to share your experiences with Hungarian colleagues and fathers?
I´d feel honoured and pleased to share our experience from working with fathers with you in Hungary!
Thank You for your kind answers!
It has been my pleasure!