Security Guard: 'So you're baby-sitting today?'
[Post features in the book Dads Don't Babysit]
Why is being a bloke often lumped with not wanting to parent properly? What do we expect from dads? What do we mean by 'fatherhood', aside from a bloke who gave half the ingredients for a baby? And what impact do these ideas have on our jobs and the rest of our lives? People agree what 'maternal' means. Mums are thought to be instinctively nurturing and responsible. But things get a little more fuzzy when it comes to what being a dad is about...
Some people think dad is meant to be the strict parent, others the irresponsible and silly one (the Homer Simpson type). Capable of earning, incapable of running the family and certainly not to be relied on to look after the kids. Some think he's fun, others lazy, some that he's the absent breadwinner protecting his family, others that he's just absent. Some dads want to be involved with their kids, but supposedly can't change a nappy, others think that walking with a pushchair in the park would somehow threaten their status as a man.
So a 'dad' could be the working but uninvolved parent, or he could be the guy who plays with the kids, but leaves the real parenting to mum, or he could be the guy who helps mum 'do her job', like a back-up parent. All of these 'types' of dads have one thing in common, the mum is responsible for the little trolls, and their role is to 'help' or 'let her do her thing'.
But there are also dads who are sharing parenting with their partners, or even being the main carers for their kids. They certainly aren't 'hands-off', nor are they 'mum's assistant'. Dads who instinctively spring in to action when they hear the more serious fart sound coming from the nappy. Dads who know it's their turn to wake up in the night for their little angel (or rather little demon at 3am). Dads who have a sense of purpose when they leave work early to do the school run, or at no notice to take their vomiting offspring home. Dads who take the initiative to replenish the endless supply shortage of tiny socks, and spend far too much time on Google finding out how to cook and puree vegetables. But this isn't what most people think of when they think of dads.
These dads are not less fun than the Homer Simpson type. It's our job to make our kids laugh, and more importantly laugh at them when they're silly. Dads generally do do the baby-plane best. But we want to be more than the deputy or back-up parent.
Let's be clear: these dad's are not just 'blokes with no ambition', they are not 'interfering with mum's job', and they are not 'more in touch with their feminine side'. When people, like the security guard above, think these things, they prop up a world that makes it more difficult for dads to choose to be a more active, tiny-sock-buying type of dad.
If people believe deep-down, mums are really responsible for changing nappies, it becomes reasonable to only put nappy changing stations in women's toilets (this has led to Little Bear being changed on lobby, airport and cafe tables to the shock of people working there). It means everyone's a little shocked when a dad comes to a 'parent'/mum-and-baby group or feels a little excluded by a parental advice forum with 'mum' in the title. Or an advert that says, 'because mom always knows best'. And it probably makes a lot of blokes worried about asking their boss for flexible working, shared parental leave, or to change their working hours because they have a kid.
The workplace is a tough one. Dads, like any other bloke, are meant to be ambitious at work because they're the ones who are expected to bring home the bacon for the family. There are still people who think it's emasculating when a guy's earning less than his partner, or being a stay-at-home-dad, because they think deep-down that this is woman's work.
So when dads ask for new working arrangements because they need to look after their kid for a day a week, eyebrows will be raised, careers will suffer because they clearly 'lack ambition', and in the private sector, they might just be told no. Don't get me wrong, it's clearly bad for mums too. But if a mum wants to change her work patterns because of kids, no one's going to be surprised, and there a plenty of people who would think she's 'doing the right thing'. But dads aren't going to get that support and encouragement. Not yet.
And that's going to stop a lot of dads who want to be the buggy-pushing, nappy-changing, hungry-caterpillar reading dad from doing what they want to do. Great for those who do it anyway, but it's like saying that because May is Prime-Minister, there is no more sexism against women. It's just not true and we shouldn't expect blokes to ignore what people expect from them as dads.
If you liked this post and want to know more about problems like the Paternity Gap and the Babysitting Handicap, and how we can fix them, try out the book Dads Don't Babysit: Towards Equal Parenting
I'm Dave, dad of Little Bear. Also known as 'Pappa' to the little man as we try and bring out his Swedish roots