Essays Fatherly emotions in Soviet Russia

New legislation at the end of the 1960s contained clearer procedural rules for marrying and divorcing and material regulations on support payments for children after divorce. Family values and domestic comfort increasingly occupied people’s minds from the 1960s onwards. This decade can be regarded as the point when, for the first time, public demands were made on men to be present in the family and more involved and engaged in their role as fathers.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2017: 1-2, pp 20-29
Published on on June 13, 2017

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In a world where the 20th century East-West geopolitical, social, and cultural divide has strongly influenced our minds it seems appropriate to ask whether or not fatherhood in Soviet Russia — emotions, ideal images, and practices — also differed from the English-speaking countries in Europe and North America or Northern European countries, that is, the parts of the world referred to as “the West”. I would agree that such a difference exists in regard to the first three or four decades after the Russian revolution. Norms of marriage, family, and fatherhood at that time lost much of their traditional and prerevolutionary appeal due to legislation and politics after the Russian revolution simplifying divorce procedures to a degree that made Soviet Russia look like no Western country of the time. Men and women were free to leave their partners for new ones without officially divorcing and remarrying. Also, women were granted the right to free abortion,1 and in order to obtain child allowance, mothers with children born out of wedlock had the right to identify the alleged father, sometimes more than one, without serious judicial procedures being undertaken.2 All this weakened the connection between the biological father and his children. The vast migration movement characterizing the Soviet 1930s and ’40s was another factor that loosened family ties. Peasants deprived of their land and other groups of people, such as national minorities, were evacuated, exiled, interned in camps, or executed. An extensive mobilization of the work force took place towards newly erected factories or sites where vast raw resources were being extracted. The nuclear family model that characterizes the Western ideal and practices became a somewhat redundant phenomenon in early Soviet Russia. In this connection, we should also take into consideration the legacy of the East European family pattern. Tight connections between generations can be traced back in history with the institution of fatherhood — weak in comparison to the pater familias tradition that was influential in, for example, German or French family norms. The East European pattern is characterized by extended peasant families with generational power relations — that is, the young couple normally lives with the husband’s family, where the elder generation is in a position of power.3

In post-revolutionary Russia, important parts of the upbringing of children were often transferred to collective or public institutions such as schools, pioneer camps, daycare centers, and orphanages, or to members of an extended family, such as the grandparents’ generation or other relatives, and to neighbors in the collective housing arrangements in which several families shared apartments. The enormous loss of Russian men of fertile age in World War II also played a part in making the invisibility of fathers permanent; the men were absent in the most concrete sense. To use a concept from scholars of emotion studies, we might say that the Soviet Russian interwar period contained special “emotional regimes”.4

However, my study focuses on a period of three decades (1960—1990) starting fifteen years after World War II. The 1960s have a significant place in Soviet Russian history as a turning point from a political regime that had been based since the 1920s on mobilization and increasingly on repression and coercion; at certain times on mass terror. Let me quote Mikhail Petrovich, 58, one of the men I interviewed for my study, who talks about the 1960s, expressing a fairly widespread opinion: “Now, look at a picture from that time. You will see men with their hair boldly brushed back from their foreheads. They look like free men.”5 After Stalin’s death in 1953, the Soviet leadership condemned the centralized totalitarian system and the terror of the Stalin era. State welfare systems were expanded and at the same time the notion of private life was rehabilitated to a certain extent.6 A renewed interest in issues of education in Soviet society brought topics of child development and the concept of personality back to the public agenda.7 A certain relaxation took place after the previously strict control of what matters could be exposed in the mass media, such as criticism of various aspects of everyday life in society. A modest opening towards authentic public opinion started in the 1960s,8 even if this “semipublic domain” retained unclear demarcation lines between private and public life all through the Soviet times.9

This period also witnessed a revival of a public interest in promoting pro-marriage and nuclear family norms. New legislation at the end of the 1960s contained clearer procedural rules for marrying and divorcing and material regulations on support payments for children after divorce.10 Family values and domestic comfort increasingly occupied people’s minds from the 1960s onwards.11 This decade can be regarded as the point when, for the first time, public demands were made on men to be present in the family and more involved and engaged in their role as fathers.12

Some words on sources and methods

These are the main questions that have guided me through my study: What form did public/official discourses and attitudes to fatherhood take in the late socialist decades in Soviet Russia? Do the narratives of the informants I talked to about their remembered experience of being fathers coincide with these discourses? Or do we find other attitudes when we talk to men about their remembered practices of fatherhood? Also, do the public discourses differ from dominant fatherhood ideals in the West in the same period, or could they be regarded as belonging to the same kind of “emotional regime”13 as that found in Western countries? Finally, to detect possible changes from the preceding early Soviet socialism to the late socialist decades or what is sometimes referred to as actually existing socialism, I decided to look at Soviet Russian fatherhood from an intergenerational perspective by talking to my informants about memories of their fathers.

I started work on my study by considering international, mainy English-speaking and North European historiography of fatherhood and masculinities, with a focus on the 20th century.14 Here, dominant ideal images of masculinity are identified as an ability to maintain self-control and control of emotions, will power, honesty, endurance, and a capacity to work hard. A distance from emotions, or a certain degree of reluctance to talk about emotions concerning love and close relations, during the century — or at least up to its final decades — is emphasized in emotion studies.15 At the same time, men’s dependence on family is believed to have increased in a world of growing routinization of work and a decreased self-fulfillment through professional endeavors.16 However, scholars warn against depicting strict linear models of family transformation, when in fact changes in parenting “have been neither uniform nor routinely predictable”. In other words, the cultural ideal of fatherhood was in flux during the 20th century.17 Scholars of the history of emotions point to the existence of a “growing emotional informality in a context that continues to insist on a great deal of self-control”.18

Masculinities and fatherhood in Russian history is an understudied topic in comparison to the situation in Western countries. However, a few studies have been undertaken on fatherhood in Soviet times.19 In these, a fatherhood model is outlined and described as a family regime with marginalized fathers, replaced by a liaison of working mothers supported by the Soviet state, e.g. with extensive day care facilities, and extended motherhood through grandmothers. One of the studies claims that “in practice, the mother took sole responsibility for all parts of the children’s upbringing, often together with her mother”.20 To me this appeared to be an exaggerated and overgeneralized conclusion; to challenge its overall validity, I decided go deeper into fatherhood discourse and practice in late Soviet Russia by studying printed matter from the time and by talking to men about their remembered fatherhood. My main printed source is the Russian monthly magazine Sem’ia i shkola. Zhurnal dlia roditelei, [Family and the school. A magazine for parents], for the period 1960—1990. The magazine was probably used in the same way as advice books for parents. Without having facts about the readership of the magazine, I would guess that a large proportion of its audience had a higher education, and that most of the readers were women. If women were the main recipients of the messages, this probably affected the way the articles were written. Ralph LaRossa has discussed this fact with regards to images of fatherhood in US postwar magazines. I will return to how we can deal with the fact that few men read the paper, yet we still can see similar ideas and ideals expressed both in the magazine and by the fathers themselves.

Let me address a potential problem of using an open printed source from a state socialist country: Considering the heavy censorship of the Soviet media and the blatant ways in which the Soviet state used the media to convey its propaganda, the usefulness of a source such as a Soviet magazine for depicting public discourse can be questioned. Nonetheless, my earlier readings of various popular publications from the mid-1950s and later suggest that a considerable range of opinions were published concerning issues in people’s everyday life.21 These included, for example, demands for the right to divorce, complaints on the difficult situation of single mothers, discussions of gender roles, and criticism of men’s poor performance in household chores and child care. Issues of sexuality, on the other hand, are conspicuously absent; the language of the articles of the magazine Sem’ia i shkola was rather prudish up to the late 1980s.22 Also, very few references to discourses or practices in foreign countries are made, except for a few emanating from other East European socialist countries. Only in the very late years of the Soviet 1980s were European founders of theories on psychological relations between children and their parents, such as Sigmund Freud and Erich Fromm, mentioned and talked about.23

From my reading of the relevant articles in Sem’ia i shkola I pinpointed a few prominent facets of fatherhood ideals that helped me formulate questions to my informants, to explore their memory of being fathers and their views of what an ideal father should look like. We interviewed eleven men aged between 50—75, all married and, with one exception,24 all living in St Petersburg. The social status of the informants stretches from lower middle class with secondary, vocational education to middle class, with higher education. The selection of informants was made basically via acquaintances of a Russian sociologist, who acted as a co-interviewer with me. The interviews are semi-structured, in-depth conversations lasting for one and a half to two and a half hours.

I cannot, of course claim to show a representative picture with such a limited number of interviews. Still, I do believe that my results will contribute to a more diversified picture of Soviet Russian fatherhood. The fact that all the informants live in an urban environment should be stressed. I am not aware of studies that have been made on Soviet fatherhood in rural areas, but I did interview a Russian-born colleague, 36 years, nowadays located at a university in Finland. He told me the story of his grand grandparents and their experience of being parents in a remote village in Siberia, stating that this was a very patriarchal world when it comes to family relations, adding: “Well it still is”.25

I am aware of the problem of talking about things that happened thirty to fifty years ago. I assumed that the men I talked to were influenced by today’s different attitudes to fatherhood and family. Still, it turned out that questions of the type “What should a good father be like?” didn’t appear to be among the issues that many of them had reflected on. This was in contrast to other subjects that were up for discussion in our conversations. All the interviews started with me asking the men to talk about their life in retrospect. Some topics they seemed to have recounted on several occasions. This has produced narratives that have probably been modified and negotiated through their lifetimes, such as stories about World War II, political and social changes taking place after Stalin’s death, or equally groundbreaking events and processes during perestroika in the late 1980’s under Gorbachev’s regime.

In my study, I interpret my sources by applying my overall knowledge of Soviet Russian society of the time and of public discourse in general, as well as of the discourse on marriage and family specifically. I also approach the texts and structure them with the help of the theoretical concepts mentioned above, which I extracted from literature written in the last twenty-five years on European and North American masculinity and fatherhood in modern times.

Fatherhood in late Soviet Russia: Specific in cultural and emotional terms?

The most frequent ideal images I found in the magazine were “the present and involved father”, “the father as an educator and role model”, and “the father as the head of the family”. Below, I present some outcomes from my interviews put into a framework of these contemporary official/public Soviet Russian ideal images, and compare my results with outcomes from research on Western fatherhood.

Present and involved fathers

To get a better understanding of the degree to which the informants regarded themselves as having been present and involved fathers, we asked them about the division of labor in regard to child care and household chores. A typical answer we got was that no specific division of labor had been practiced within the family. As one of the informants stated, “We did what had to be done, both of us, just as it felt natural […] we dealt with what needed to be done in that moment.”26

When we asked the men for more detail about who had done what at home, we got the expected answer that they had mended the electric wiring, taken care of plumbing and carpentry and various sorts of repairs. Cooking, cleaning, and laundry seem to have been mostly taken care of by the women. But we were also told by almost all the informants that they had “mopped the floors”. This might seem surprising at first, but at a second glance a rather simple explanation emerges: Soviet apartments were often equipped with wooden floors, often an old-fashioned and simple type of parquet floor with a porous surface. The cleaning of the floors demanded the hard work of scrubbing and sometimes subsequent waxing. I laughed with one of the men when he told me how he had lashed a scrubber to each of his feet and then “skated” over the floors. “Just like Pippi Longstocking”, we burst out simultaneously.27 Also, to sweep and scrub the floors was a practice that lasted longer in Russia than in the richer countries in the West; the vacuum cleaner appeared later in Soviet Russian homes. All through the 1970s, they were expensive and rather difficult to get in the open consumer market.

An answer that surprised me more was that the men had done quite a lot of shopping for the family. We got interesting insights into sometimes adventurous undertakings in a market landscape with scarce resources. In Soviet Russia where the consumer goods sector was underdeveloped in comparison to the production sector (especially heavy industry), to go shopping often meant to go “hunting” for food or other domestic utensils. Piotr Olegovich, 62, told us about the severe scarcity of everyday products in the late 1980s, during Gorbachev’s perestroika regime. “There was virtually nothing one could get hold of […] But we didn’t think of it as a disaster, it was merely a fact […] You just had to deal with the situation … Work it out […] use your connections. For example, in the city where we lived28 there was no furniture, but still, you had to search, to catch the moment. No big deal: Go solve the problem, we told ourselves. To get hold of things was like going hunting.”29

According to time-budget studies from the 1960s and 1970s, Soviet Russian men in urban areas spent about half of the time that women did on household obligations. However, activities devoted to child care were more evenly distributed between the parents, in comparison to laundry, cooking, and housecleaning.30 An impression I got from talking to my informants was that they spent most of their out-of-work time at home, something that is confirmed by the time-budget studies: the most popular reported leisure activities of the urban population in Soviet Russia, at least in the 1960s and ’70s, were reading newspapers, books, and magazines and listening to the radio.31

In literature on Western fatherhood and masculinity, we likewise find assertions that women at the time were in charge of the overall planning of household chores and child care, while men showed few signs of wanting to take the initiative in day-to-day activities in this area.32

When we talked to our informants about sharing household and child care duties, we often found that the grandmothers were included. Eight out of the eleven informants had lived together with members of the elder generation when the children were small. Grandmothers played a prominent part in helping families in Soviet Russia with household work and child care.33 There was an extensive public day care sector, at least in urban areas, but everyday life was still time-consuming. So the grandparents’ generation was an important piece in the complicated life puzzle that emerged when Soviet women took on paid work outside the home, several decades earlier than their Western sisters.34 Lack of housing, forcing generations to live together, made the phenomenon of extended families last longer in Soviet Russian times, even though legislation and family policy encouraged nuclear family models.

Conversations about being a present and involved father brought us to the topic of being emotionally involved. We asked the men about their recollections of emotions from the moment when their child or children were born. Here we got very different answers, spanning from surprised reactions such as “What kind of question is that? […] I just had the usual feelings!”35 or “I didn’t experience any certain reflexes whatsoever […] Well, a child was being born. Just like the leaves burst out and the snow is melting […] just like a natural thing”36 to an elaborate story starting with the words “At the first moment I was so afraid of losing hold of the baby […] I mustn’t drop her, I mustn’t drop her, I told myself […] But then I lay down with her on the bed and she started to snooze and soon I was asleep. We were lying like that on the bed for half an hour or so.”37

In the end, after having talked about intimate fatherly emotions, we had a mix of stories about remembered strong emotions when the first child was born on the one hand, and narratives about the need for a man to show a certain degree of emotional self-restraint towards children on the other. “I was quite straightforward with my sons, no coddling”,38 one father said, and another, “I didn’t kiss or hug my daughters […] no real need for that […] you must control your behavior as a dad.”39 The notion of the father as a man in control of his emotions also lurks in quite of few of the texts in the magazine Sem’ia i shkola: “Naturally, a father, like any other human being, can feel very different emotions for his children, including anger, but on these occasions, he has to master himself and not let his children see him lose control.”40 Another article brings up the positive aspect of a present and engaged father, however, with a warning not to be too close, not too much of a companion: “It is a good thing when children see how their father regularly takes part in their upbringing. But there is no reason to go to the other extreme […] a father shouldn’t show an overwhelming amount of love for his children.”41

In this connection, I tried to find advice that pointed to the risk of male violence within the family. The existence of a rather high rate of alcohol consumption among male adults, especially from the 1970s onwards, was rarely touched upon in Sem’ia i shkola. One author writes in rather stilted language about how his lifelong experience of being a teacher had taught him that the right to be demanding and severe comes from natural fatherly authority: “He is the wisest and the most knowledgeable of all grownups that the child knows”. But then the author cautiously warns against severity being transformed into cruelty and brutality: “That must never happen”.42 A necessary balance between austerity and rough treatment is prescribed in some of the articles, without bringing up the problem of drinking.

The informants who expressed themselves in the most emotional way about their memories of their child’s birth were the youngest ones, or those who had children in the 1980s. Andrei Leonidovich, 60, talked about himself as being more emotional as a parent than his wife but characterized this quality as being not a proper male trait: “I am like a mother, I don’t know if that is […] if it is because that is how I am as a person.”43 For a comparative perspective we might look to a study on American fathers concluding that men who took primary responsibility for child-rearing often thought of themselves as “male mothers.”44

When we talked about emotions towards children and various ways of being close to them, by playing with them or guiding them in professional or study choices, we sensed a wavering opinion on whether you should be an authority or a playful pal to your kids. Piotr Alexandrovich, who had children in the 1960s, used to spend a lot of time with his sons when they were small, going fishing, playing with railway models, teaching them how to mend the electrical system at home, etc. This was confirmed by one of his sons whom we talked to afterwards. However, when we asked our informant about what good fatherhood meant to him, he didn’t talk about the playful father as an ideal. Instead he stressed the guiding role of the father as the most important.45 The magazine Sem’ia i shkola talks about the need for fathers to devote time to their children and to play with them; however, when giving advice, it stressed that “when fathers feel like their son’s pal” things had gone too far.46 For a comparative perspective,  fatherhood in Western societies, especially after World War II, is seen to have transformed from a more authoritarian to a father-companion relation within the family where the man serves as “chief pal”.47 From my study it seems that the Soviet Russian fatherhood ideal, even if not necessarily the practice, was stricter in this regard, emphasizing that the father should not to lose sight of the need to lead and guide his children.

The father as role model and educator

A discourse that emerged strongly in Sem’ia i shkola in the mid-1970s is the importance of the father as a role-model, especially to his sons: “The father ought to be a role-model to his son, helping him to develop true male characteristics, such as courage, restraint and generosity”.48 When we asked the men if they thought fathers should have an educating function, they often had to think for a minute or two. “Well [ …] you see […] a man is a man […] he works a lot. He should devote his efforts towards his child to making him or her competitive in life,”49 one informant said, while another claimed that the father should be like a teacher and supervisor when the child was small or young, but “when it has grown up you should be a friend.”50 Again, the answers recall the advice in Sem’ia i shkola. The ideal image of the father as the educator and the one who guides the child in educational choices and moral behavior is firmly conveyed to the reader: “A father can help his child to choose a profession and to prepare in a proper way for their future professional life, not only from a technical but also from a moral point of view.”51

When we asked whether the informants had read advice literature on child rearing, they all rejected the idea, often assuring us that this was not needed, since it was a natural thing to bring up children: “My wife read Sem’ia i shkola and Benjamin Spock,52 but this kind of literature never had any influence on me.”53 The notion of the father as an educator was highly regarded, but we may doubt to what extent the ideals were put into practice.

The father as head of the family

Most of the informants said explicitly that they had been the leader of the family. None of them, however, connected being the head of the family with being the main breadwinner. In Soviet Russia at the time, women earned on average 70 percent of what men did,54 and most of the informants were quite firm in stating the necessity of being the main breadwinner for a man’s self-esteem: “If the woman earns more money, what mission does a man then really have?” one of them said,55 and another claimed it important for the father to be the main breadwinner, otherwise people would “look down on him.”56 Some of the informants had been working during Gorbachev’s perestroika period in the late 1980s, when the introduction of market economy elements, such as “cooperatively” owned small business which in fact were private enterprises, sometimes turned job opportunities upside down, allowing women to earn more than their spouses. These men were less affirmative in their answers: “Why should there be a main breadwinner in the family […] a stupid idea”,57 or “I don’t know who of us earned the most — does it matter?”58 If we look again at studies on Western fatherhood we find another picture in this respect: the American historian Peter Stearns confirms that few men would claim to be the boss in their household. Still, Stearns says, a few would regard their wives as a “junior partner” in the family when it came to “big decisions”.59

To sum up the conversation, we had with our informants on how a good father should perform, I would say that their ideals closely resemble what was put forward in the magazine Sem’ia i shkola. On the question what the practice had been, how the informants had spent their time, it was obvious that a clear majority had been away from home more than their wives. Most often, this fact was explained by the need to work. Still, men seem to have spent large parts of their leisure time at home, thus being present fathers — sometimes “distant present”, sometimes “involved present” fathers.

When we compare some of the attitudes in Soviet Russia to the ones in the contemporary West, we find a picture that makes the East–West divide in fatherhood discourse and practice look exaggerated: in both worlds, women took the lion’s share of household work and child care duties. In our talks with the informants, we find they mostly cherished the ideal of a father being firmer in conduct with his children than the mother. He should avoid being too much of a pal and aim to be more of a moral guide. In research into Western fatherhood of the time, the idea of father as the pal in the family is more prominent.

The willingness of the informants to claim that they had been the head of family also differs from contemporary Western attitudes, where men wouldn’t — at least openly — state they were the boss of the family. However, whether the Soviet Russian fathers acted as head of the family is not clear. We could not really find this out in our interviews. We had plans to interview the mothers; this project, however, turned out to be impossible, for various reasons. The Russian sociologist Sergey Kukhterin, who has also interviewed fathers, claims it is obvious that the real head of family was the woman.60 However, the fact that men earned more money than women might of course have made them feel like leaders, even if my informants were not prepared to connect being the main breadwinner with having a leading role; instead they referred to having possessed moral qualities that made them the suitable head of family.

Change in Soviet Russian fatherhood:  An inter-generational perspective

To find out how practices and ideals of Soviet Russian fatherhood changed from the earlier Soviet times to the 1960s and later, we decided to talk to our men about their memories of their own fathers. In their narratives, they often came back to how occupied the fathers had been by work. Actually, most of them said about both parents that they had worked a lot: “Mom and Dad didn’t spend much time with us because they were working all the time.”61 Or: “I don’t remember much of a commitment from either of my parents.”62 Another informant said: “I had a lot of freedom when I was a kid […] there was […]  well […] like […] no upbringing”,63 and one said that all the kids played outside their parents’ surveillance.64 Piotr Alexandrovich, whose father died in World War II, even praised the fact that he grew up fatherless.65

These answers fit well into the picture of earlier, postrevolutionary periods of Soviet Russia that I presented in the beginning of my essay. This was a society oriented towards collectivism rather than a private, nuclear family life. We then asked our informants if they could recollect feelings of grief at not having seen much of their fathers: Had they not longed for their dads to be there to spend time with them? In their answers, we could not detect feelings of loss. Instead we heard things like “I never thought that way” 66 or “No, I was very independent.”67 Piotr Olegovich, 62, said: “I had this feeling that no one was bringing me up […] we had a lot of freedom.”68 Thus we get a picture of families in which neither parent was very controlling or present. In this connection, Georgii Davidovich, 75, underlined the role of the surrounding society, including school, in upholding discipline and the task of education: “My parents didn’t devote much time to me […] but the teachers were demanding and very skilled.”69

Still, the men asserted that their fathers had been role models to them, even if they hadn’t been that much physically present. Several of the informants told us they had chosen the same profession as their fathers. “Yes, (my father was a role model to me); as I got older […] I also wanted to become a sailor”, Oleg Pavlovich, 81, said.70 Judging from the interviews, then, we get a picture of men who didn’t admit or recognize that they had missed or longed for their fathers. Still, they claim that their fathers had been their role models in life and this was connected to the choice of studies or profession. In the 1990s, the Swedish sociologist Thomas Johansson interviewed men in their thirties to fifties about their fathers, interviews resulting in stories filled with a sense of lack and pain for not having to got to know their fathers and therefore having missed a role model in life.71 However, Johansson concludes, the image of the absent father is to a certain extent a stereotype hiding a real father who has often stimulated his son’s search for knowledge. Men today sometimes get stuck in a stereotypical image of their fathers that was formed by the culture and sometimes reinforced via the “gaze of the mother”. The father is constructed as the “Other”.72 Thus, in looking for an East-West difference in the perception of fatherhood one could see the “absent” father as a Western cultural construction in which grief has been reinforced by cherishing a nuclear family model and by influences from psychoanalytical thinking that was banned during most of the Soviet period.73

Concluding remarks

Does fatherhood in late Soviet Russia differ in a decisive way from Western fatherhood? Was the father marginalized and the mother the one who solely took responsibility for all parts of the child rearing, as some scholars assert when they outline the Soviet “model of fatherhood”? I would say this is too broad a generalization. My study points to fathers who were present and involved. However, it should be stressed that my informants are all married fathers. The case with divorced and other single fathers might look quite different, with men not willing to pay support for their children, not prepared to take upon themselves shared custody, but instead abandoning their children from a first marriage to the advantage of children in a subsequent  marriage.

To what extent extended motherhood has remained a specifically Eastern phenomenon in modern times is somewhat doubtful. In comparison to experience in Western countries, it is more of question of when: Grandmothers were already an indispensable asset in Soviet Russia in the interwar period, while they have come to play a similarly important role, together with grandfathers, in many Western countries starting in the 1970s and 1980s, with a high proportion of women working outside the home.74 Still, in the period I have studied, the grandmother generation in Soviet Russia did play an outstanding role, relieving the family, and primarily the women, from a heavy double burden of wage labor and household chores. This fact has led to scholars of Soviet Russia terming men “unnecessary”, “superfluous”, and even “unwanted” in the families. My interviews do not give this simplified picture. Men did spend quite some time at home and some of them devoted quite a lot of time to their children, while some did not, referring to the need to be at work. The work factor as a stated reason for not having participated in child care of course differed between our informants. Georgii Davidovich, 75, had travelled abroad a lot, having supervised installations of hydrotechnical equipment in various Third World countries such as Pakistan, Vietnam, and Cuba in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the only one of our men who stated that, to him, work had always been more important than family. Still, he talked with pride about his daughter, who today is a high-ranking manager in big business, and you could sense that he felt he had influenced her in her choice of career.75

Thus, we get a diverse picture that may possibly be similar in the East and the West. If we generalize, however, our interviews confirm that men were less involved in household chores and child care labor, but more present in the latter.

Now, did the stories about the remembered practices of fatherhood coincide with the discourses in the magazine Sem’ia i shkola? Both yes and no would be my answer. Before we jump to conclusions on this matter we should ask ourselves whether men read magazines like Sem’ia i shkola. I have already quoted an informant who explicitly said he didn’t read advice-giving books or magazines. In fact, only one of our informants said he had read Sem’ia i shkola.76 Several said their wives had read it, but they themselves didn’t feel they had needed that: “Stupid advice”, or “I never felt the necessity, I used my brain and my heart instead,” were some of the commentaries we got. Still, I would claim that the content of the advice reflected a dominant public discourse of the time. In the case of the magazine Sem’ia i shkola, we can imagine a chain of influence that looked like this: Quite a few women, especially from the middle class, read the magazine and probably influenced their spouses, talking about various points of advice to parents. Teachers too most probably read the magazine as part of their professional duties. According to my interviews, women visited parents’ evenings organized by schools. Here various kinds of advice were conveyed by teachers to the mothers, who in their turn, passed the message on their spouses.

With regard to the ideal of a man as being in control of his emotions, the informants talked about the necessity of showing a certain restraint in their emotional behavior towards the children. A man was expected to exert self-control. Still, they shared stories with us about remembered close and intimate feelings towards their newborn children and sometimes feelings of guilt for not having been sufficiently present and involved as fathers. One of the stories conveys especially strong feelings of guilt: Piotr Olegovich, 62, divorced his first wife when his youngest daughter was eight, and during the interview he expressed frustration and sorrow about this part of his life. The reason for the divorce was that he had met another woman whom he describes as the love of his life. This was the only interview that I didn’t take part in myself. It was made in a café in St. Petersburg by my Russian colleague, so I just had the recorded sound file to work on. Every time their conversation touches upon his divorce and the separation from his first daughter, his voice changes. Now and then one can sense tears in his voice and occasionally there are long silences.77

Both the stories of our informants and the printed texts are permeated by beliefs in gender roles due to biological differences. The underlying assumption of men and women being different is present in virtually all the texts in the magazine Sem’ia i shkola. Some authors state that the roles of fathers and mothers are determined both by nature and by society, but most often they lean more heavily towards biological explanations, stating that “motherly feelings are inherent, while fatherly emotions are acquired”78 and that the female psyche is more emotional, while men have an “inherent drive to move away from the hearth”.79 The informants often talk in similar ways: “The mother is the most important person during the child’s first years,”80 or “Mothers are softer than fathers”.81 One man said that his daughters “naturally” had closer relations to their mother: “I don’t care when they start whispering to each other, I go watch football on TV instead. I have nothing to contribute to their talks,”82 Mikhail Grigorevich, 75, said. “When the son is four or five years the father becomes important to him as a model of what a man should be […] but also important to the daughter because the more a father is a loving father, the more the daughter feels this, she is more sensitive than a boy”.83

We also talked to our informants about their fathers, and we heard them saying unanimously that their fathers had been too occupied with work to be able to be present and involved fathers. This confirms the picture of the earlier period of Soviet Russia when men were supposed to engage considerably more in collective, societal chores, such as work, than in private family matters. Still, our men did not express negative feelings about this fact, no special emotions of loss. This has made me think of the notion of “absent fathers” as a partly socially constructed phenomenon. And it leads us to the question whether the “emotional regime” of fatherhood in late Soviet Russia does not fundamentally resemble that of the West.≈


1 Efforts have been made to estimate the extent to which that right was used: see e.g. Andrei Vishnevskii, Demograficheskaia modernizatsiia Rossii: 1900—2000 (Moscow: Novoe izdatel’stvo, 2006), 104—105.
2 Wendy Goldman, Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917—1936 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Gail Warshofsky Lapidus, Women in Soviet Society: Equality, Development and Social Change (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978); Helene Carlbäck, “Tracing the Roots of Early Soviet Russian Family Laws,” in Gender Transitions in Russia and Eastern Europe, ed. Ilidko Asztalos Morell et al. (Stockholm: Gondolin, 2005), 69—84.
3 Peter Laslett, “Family and Household as Work Group and Kin Group: Areas of Traditional Europe Compared,” in Family Forms in Historic Europe, ed. D. R. Wall, J. Robin, and P. Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 513—563.
4 Jan Plamper, “The History of Emotions: Interview with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns”, History and Theory 49 (May 2010), 244.
5 M. Petrovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.
6 Elena Zhidkova, “Family, Divorce, and Comrades’ Courts: Soviet Family and Public Organizations During the Thaw,” in And They Lived Happily Ever After: Norms and Everyday Practices of Family and Parenthood in Russia and Central Europe, ed. Helene Carlbäck et al. (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2012).
7 Deborah Field, Private Life and Communist Morality in Khrushchev’s Russia (New York: Peter Lang, 2007), 47—64.
8 Elena Zubkova, Russia After the War: Hopes, Illusions, and Disappointments, 1945—1957 (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1998), 191—201.
9 Anna Rotkirch, The Man Question: Loves and Lives in Late 20th Century Russia, dissertation, University of Helsinki, 2000, xiii.
10 Lapidus, Women, 239.
11 Vladimir Schlapentokh, Public and Private Life of the Soviet People: Changing Values in Post-Stalin Russia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).
12 For studies on single mothers and “fatherless” children, see: Helene Carlbäck, “Lone Motherhood in Soviet Russia in the Mid-20th Century: In a European Context,” in And They Lived Happily, ed. Carlbäck et al., 25—46; Helene Carlbäck, “Lone Mothers and Fatherless Children: Public Discourse on Marriage and Family Law,” in Soviet State and Society under Nikita Khrushchev, ed. Melanie Ilic et al. (London: Routledge, 2009), 86—103.
13 For a discussion on the use of the concepts of “emotional regime” and “emotional community”, see Plamper, “The History of Emotions”, 253; 255—257.
14 For a bibliography and a historiographical analysis of works on “Western” (primarily British and American) fatherhood in the first half of the 20th century, see Laura King, Family Men: Fatherhood and Masculinity in Britain, c. 1914—1960 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 4—8. For Scandinavian studies on masculinity and fatherhood in the Northern countries, see Joergen Lorentzen et al., eds., Män i Norden: manlighet och modernitet 1840—1940 [Men in the northern countries: masculinity and modernity, 1840—1890] (Möklinta, Sweden: Gidlund, 2006).
15 Susan J. Matt, “Current Emotional Research in History: Or Doing History from the Outside Out”, Emotion Review 3, no. 1 (2011), 121.
16 Peter Stearns, Be a Man! Males in Modern Society (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1990), 147.
17 Scott Coltrane and Ross D. Parke, Reinventing Fatherhood: Toward an Historical Understanding of Continuity and Change in Men’s Family Lives (Philadelphia, PA: National Center on Fathers and Families, WP-8-12A, December 1998), 7.
18 Peter Stearns, “History of Emotions: Issues of Change and Impact”, in Handbook on Emotions, 3rd ed., ed. Michael Lewis et al. (New York: Guilford Press, 2008), 24.
19 See e.g. Sergey Kukhterin, “Fathers and Patriarchs in Communist and Post-Communist Russia”, in Gender, State and Society in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia, ed. Sarah Ashwin (London: Routledge, 2000), 71—89; Zhanna Chernova, “Model’ ‘sovetskogo’ otsovstva: Diskursivnye predpisania” [The model of “Soviet” fatherhood: discursive regulations], in Rossiiskii gendernyi poriadok: sotsiologicheskii podkhod [Russian gender order: a sociological approach], ed. Elena Zdravomyslova (St. Petersburg: Evropejskij universitet, 2007), 138—168; Johnny Rodin and Pelle Åberg, “Fatherhood Across Space and Time: Russia in Perspective,” Baltic Worlds 4, no. 3—4 (2013), 21—28.
20 Rodin and Åberg, “Fatherhood Across Space and Time”, 26.
21 Helene Carlbäck, “Wives or Workers? Women’s Position in the Labour Force and in Domestic Life in Sweden and Russia during the 1960s,” in Gender, Equality and Difference During and After State Socialism, ed. Rebecca Kay (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
22 Sexology (with the focus on sexopathology) only emerged in the late 1960s.
23 See e.g. Sem’ia i shkola. Zhurnal dlia roditelei, 1990, no. 5, 39—41, no. 6, 30—33.
24 Piotr Olegovich lives in Perm.
25 Ivan Viktorovich, interview with Helene Carlbäck, Helsinki, May 2016.
26 Petrovich, interview with E. Ivanova, 2016.
27 The famous Swedish author of children’s books, Astrid Lindgren, was already well known and loved by both children and adults during the Soviet period in Russia. Pippi Longstocking is the strong, independent and creative main character of several of her books. M Petrovich, Interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.
28 Olegovich was the only one of our informants who did not live in St Petersburg, but in Perm in the Urals.
29 Olegovich, interview with E. Ivanova, 2016.
30 Jiri Zuzanek, Work and Leisure in the Soviet Union: A Time-budget Analysis (New York: Praeger, 1980), 81.
31 Zuzanek, Work, 90—93.
32 Stearns, Be a Man, 162.
33 One of the informants had lived with his family far away from his relatives when his children were growing up, and he told about changing and washing diapers all the time when the children were small. He never used to talk about this, however, he told us.
34 Rotkirch, The Man Question, 120—21.
35 Grigorevich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.
36 Olegovich, interview with E. Ivanova, 2016.
37 Petrovich, interview with E. Ivanova, 2015.
38 Aleksandrovich, interview with H. Carlbäck, 2015.
39 Davidovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.
40 Sem’ia i shkola 1961, no. 8, 7—9.
41 Sem’ia i shkola 1974, no. 2, 6—7.
42 Sem’ia i shkola 1979, no. 2, 17—21.
43 Leonidovich, interview with H. Carlbäck, 2016.
44 Stearns, Be a Man, 165.
45 Aleksandrovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015
46 Sem’ia i shkola 1974, no. 2, 6—7.
47 Stearns, Be a Man, 164—165.
48 Sem’ia i shkola 1982, no. 3, 23—24.
49 Davidovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.
50 Grigorevich, interview with H. Carlbäck, 2015.
51 Sem’ia i shkola 1961, no. 8, 7—9.
52 To my knowledge, Benjamin Spock’s book was one of the few if not the only Western advice book on child rearing in Soviet Russia.
53 Petrovich, interview with E. Ivanova, 2016.
54 Lapidus, Women, 193.
55 Aleksandrovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.
56 Leonidovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2016.
57 Andreyevich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2016.
58 Alekseyevich, interview with H. Carlbäck, 2016
59 Stearns, Be a Man, 159—160.
60 Kukhterin, Fathers, 84—85.
61 Olegovich, interview with E. Ivanova, 2016.
62 Davidovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.
63 Olegovich, interview with E. Ivanova, 2016.
64 Pavlovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.
65 Aleksandrovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.
66 Ivanovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2016.
67 Petrovich, interview with E. Ivanova, 2016.
68 Olegovich, interview with E. Ivanova, 2016.
69 Davidovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.
70 Pavlovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2016.
71 Thomas Johansson, “Pappor och deras pappor” [Dads and their dads], in Rädd att falla: Studier i manlighet [Afraid of falling: studies on masculinity], ed. Claes Ekenstam (Stockholm: Gidlund, 1998), 329.
72 Johansson, “Pappor”, 319.
73 Rotkirch, The Man Question, 142.
74 Stearns, Be a Man, 161.
75 Davidovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.
76 Grigorevich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.
77 Olegovich, interview with E. Ivanova, 2016.
78 Sem’ia i shkola 1982, no. 3, 23—24.
79 Sem’ia i shkola 1989, no. 3, 38—38.
80 Andreyevich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2016.
81 Aleksandrovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015
82 Pavlovich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.
83 Grigorevich, interview with H. Carlbäck and E. Ivanova, 2015.


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