• Allan Shedlin

A Father’s Legacy of Care that Keeps on Giving

Guest Post by Gary Barker

CEO, Promundo-US

Gary Barker with his father, Robert

My father, Robert “Bob” Barker, passed away this summer after a six-year battle with dementia. For all the years of that battle, he was cared for at home by my mother, other family members, and many others in his community – in large part because he lived a legacy of care. He modeled for all who knew him what it is to be a caring man. A caring human.

My father was a social worker, a profession that back then and still is mostly female. After a short-lived career as a varsity football player in college, he took his first job as a caseworker with California’s child welfare system, making home visits and supporting low-income households with young children. He recalled having to chase down some non-residential fathers who were not making child support payments, and being asked by one of them: “Why don’t you get a real man’s job?”

He laughed that off. Perhaps because he had the muscular build of a star football player. But mostly because for my father, being an advocate for the well-being of children was a man’s job, and it was his calling, his vocation, and lifelong passion.

After having one child (me), they adopted my brother and sister. My father advocated that every child needed a home, not an institution, and he spent every working hour making that a reality during his career. He also lived it at home. In addition to my adopted siblings, our house was always open to foster children, some who stayed for a few months and others a few years.

My father and I

I had the chance to travel with my father over the years, within Texas where he lived for many years, and elsewhere in the US and internationally where he spoke and advocated for the simple right of every child to have a family. I remember watching his compassion toward children living on the streets or in orphanages in Romania and I remember his persuasive arguments to policymakers on the need for increased funding for children to have homes and families. One of those policymakers, a former senior official in the Texas child welfare system told me: “If he disagreed with us in the state office, he shared his thoughts…but he never showed anger. He’d give us supporting information and we almost always came to a compromise that we all could live with and that would result in better care for children.”

My father never really talked about child welfare as something men should do, or spoke specifically about the role of fathers or male caregivers. He simply lived the example that men can and should care for children, as a cause and as a daily practice. My career and my cause, inspired by my father, have been focused on men’s caregiving and men being part of the global gender equality agenda.

I moved to Brazil and co-founded an organization, Promundo, that works to engage men and boys in gender equality, and I co-led the creation of the global platform MenCare to promote men’s involvement as hands-on caregivers and to create a political platform to achieve equality in our homes by bringing men into that question. We encourage men’s caregiving and involvement in the lives of children and we call for men to be allies in the global gender equality agenda, including achieving equality in who does the care in our homes. In all that work, I continue to be inspired by my father’s legacy.