Recently, an episode of a travel program, hosted by Bill Weir on CNN, investigated Iceland’s peculiar view of marriage and the country’s low marriage rate.
Based solely on articles I read about the program, it seems to me its focus was partly the number of children born out of wedlock. There is, however, no shame attached to that for a woman or a man, and indeed there are many who choose not to get married.
And no one really cares.
I don’t really know what that implies about Icelandic culture, because while people have children without feeling like they need to get married first, both genders participate equally in the upbringing of their children.
As it turns out, you don’t need a ring on your finger to be a good parent.
In my opinion, if you are in a committed relationship, and living with your girlfriend or boyfriend, fiancée or fiancé, you are not single. To me, a single parent lives alone with his or her child or children.
And that brings me to what struck me the most, the exclusion of the sperm donor from parenthood conversation, the dads who have children with the women who are branded single mothers, dads who might be living with their new partner and their new baby and her kids from the previous relationship.
I realize this may seem strange to many who come from more traditional cultures. But this “lack of marriage” has nothing to do with the so-called Viking descent or lack of religion or anything of that sort. Nor does it mean Icelanders are too poor to throw a decent wedding party. It’s just not the custom here.
The majority of Icelandic weddings I have attended are beautifully simple, and at the end of the ceremony both parties are introduced by name, not just Mr. and Mrs. Blah. It’s a society that has embraced equality, and for that reason, fathers are able to enjoy their fatherhood by taking as many months off to be with their newborn as the new mother.
They are not given a medal for picking up their kids from school, or baking for their birthday party, or staying home with them when the kid is sick. No, it’s their kid, too, and they take equal part in the lives of their children, biological or through partnership.
I have to say, too, in defense of the journalist, that I was surprised that the couple interviewed for the piece did not emphasize the father’s role but rather focused on the woman’s right to be a mother in the circumstances she herself chooses. And I am not going to object to that right.
But I’d like to point out that no one mentioned single fathers. Does that mean that when a couple separates the father is out of the picture? The child is the mother’s and the dad can move on to greener pastures and, hey, to live up to the age-old myth of manhood, spread his seed?
No, far from it. In most cases, the father is involved, and as involved as the mother. Many ex-couples try to live in the same neighborhood so that the kid can spend a week in each home, without interrupting school and activities.
Parenting in Iceland is generally an equal partnership and, more often than not, a father will do his best to take the paternal leave available to him, if the finances at home allow for it. Unfortunately, an equal pay policy for the same job is still a bit of a problem for some companies to overcome, and therefore, men receive statistically higher salaries.
Without condemning in any way the reporter’s curious investigation of Icelandic culture, which seems genuinely sincere, it is proof how far we have come in terms of equality.
And that is a good thing.
But the fact that no one pointed out all the “single” dads out there in Iceland may show us that Icelanders, too, forget the dads. I was raised by an awesome dad, not just my awesome mom. They are still together and married, and at their small-scale wedding, my mom wore a beautiful floral dress, a lovely dress without the marshmallow frills of the period’s wedding dress style.
Iceland is doing well on a global scale when it comes to equal rights, but clearly we can still do better.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – [email protected]