Saturday 18 June 2016

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

Honestly, what did the Fatherhood Institute think it was going to happen? You launch a report with the word “worst” in it, next to “mums and dads” and ending with the term “childcare” and you expect the press (especially the rightwing tabloids) to give you an easy ride?

Only a self-delusional Martian unacquainted with planet Earth, its traditions and customs could think that The Daily Mail (also known as The Daily Hate) and co. would pass up such a golden opportunity to try to put one over us, forever-on-the-crosshairs parents. Dad-as-conscientious-carers is yet another bête-noire to be added to the long list the Mail, The Sun and other newspapers have chosen as their favourite targets. Single mothers and immigrants are two other categories that come in for heavy fire from their ranks.

What the Fatherhood Institute attempted to explain was that tomorrow, as most of the world celebrates Father’s Day, British men will spend an average of 24 minutes with their children compared to one hour for British women. That does not mean that “British Dads Are the Worst in the World” as a headline reporting on the findings stated. What it means is that when it comes to sharing childcare responsibilities, men and women in the UK are still less gender-equal than parents in countries such as Sweden and France.

Rather than beating ourselves up about it, we ought to analyse the reasons for this imbalance. I can think of different elements, none of which takes precedence over another.

In my view, there is still a prevalent fathers-won’t-engage mindset in society worldwide. This, despite the many examples of men adopting a more hands-on approach in creating and raising a family nowadays. There is also a tendency to see parenting at odds with business. Parental leave is almost a four-letter word for the world of retail and commerce. Yet, as Scandinavian nations continue to show, the more time parents spend with their newborn baby, the better the outcome will be, not just for the child but also for the parents. The gender pay-gap is another reason why sharing childcare in the UK is so poor. As long as women earn 17.4% less than men (according to the Fatherhood Institute) in similar full-time jobs, the male-as-breadwinner mentality will carry on unchallenged. Parity in pay plus encouraging men to opt for part-time employment in order to spend more time with their children should go hand in hand.

At the heart of this discussion on modern fatherhood is the issue of trust. Fathering a child is easy, being a father is not. What I mean by this is that the biological process of creating a life is, on the face of it, fairly uncomplicated, if you catch my drift.

However, the process of bringing that child up together with your partner (I notice the report, as well as much of the literature that comes out of Fatherhood Institute, is chiefly heterosexual-centred. In the 21st century the straight nuclear family is no longer the norm) is very, very, very messy. Therein lies the beauty of being a parent, or more specifically, being a dad. Making the baby, anyone can do it. Raising it, well, that’s the million dollar question.

This is where society as a whole has to come to some sort of agreement. It is not impossible. I am sure that Denmark and Sweden had a male, chauvinistic culture decades ago, but they realised that the way forward was inclusion not exclusion. Antenatal, natal and post-natal services must cater to both sexes. Parental leave for fathers must be equal to that for mothers and we have to trust that dad will be most of the time with baby and not at his local watching the footie. Trust is fundamental when thinking of holistic, social solutions because their impact is not easy to measure. Some fathers need more encouragement than others in the same way that some mothers need reassurance that whatever they are doing with their babies is right. Did I mention that parenting is messy? Of course, it is, we are caring for a new being. We have been entrusted this new person’s wellbeing.

Will the UK ever catch up with the likes of Norway and Holland? In defence of my adopted land major steps have been taken. When my son was born I was in the hospital with him and my wife and was present at his birth. I was told at the time by people older than me and born and bred in Britain that had that happened a few years before I would have been asked to wait outside. During the course of both my children’s early years in primary school I noticed the increase of male presence at the end of the school day. That was certainly another step in the right direction. At work now I see men more involved in their children’s education, either dropping them off in the morning or picking them up in the afternoon. Perhaps we will get there one day, but we will need government legislation to help us along the way. We will also need to highlight issues that might not be fatherhood-related such as the gender pay-gap, women’s position in society (bottom of the ladder, sadly), the economic impact of austerity in the UK (it has mainly affected women as they are the ones who perform most of the care and voluntary roles). Fatherhood is not just about fathers, it is bigger than that.

As for the dad-shaming headlines, a piece of advice: never, ever include the words “worst”, “mums and dads” and “childcare” in the same press release. We, fathers, deserve better than being cannon fodder for The Daily Hate and its gang of doomsayers. Let us push for positive change together. Have a happy Father’s Day!

© 2016

Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Wednesday 22nd June at 6pm (GMT)


  1. When I finish exercising at our local park center I pass through the gym where there's usually a class of toddlers playing and doing various activities. At least half of the parents are men, a welcome change from the past, I imagine.

  2. Very true, it is slowly changing and dads are more involved indeed. Some words are nothing more than an idiot throwing them together for clickbait though.

  3. Well said. Things ARE changing. Slowly. And articles like that in the 'hate' mail don't help. Sadly we have similar tabloids here.

  4. LOVE that music.
    I'm a quarter Danish so I think that qualifies me for citizenship if I chose to emigrate. And that decision would be, in part, because of the advancement in their attitudes towards family and parenting, it makes for such a more stable social environment.
    I'm betting that you are a, more than the average, involved dad. Good for you, your children, your wife. I have heard in studies that children are much more likely to be confident and successful when raised primarily by dads. Not putting mothers down, but there is something different about the male care giving in comparison to mothers. I could go on about this subject, but another time.
    Anyway, happy Father's Day to you!!

  5. I wonder when something will be done about our gutter scraping papers. Honestly, do other countries have papers which tell open lies to increase sales? The Daily Express is about the worst - they literally make things up. Others, like the Mail, are deliberately misleading. I know it's not only to do with parenting, but I think this constant spiteful dishonesty and finger pointing in the media is very bad for our children. It makes them cynical and they shouldn't be. I think that analysing when you're being told lies is something that should be taught in schools.

  6. I wonder when something will be done about our gutter scraping papers. Honestly, do other countries have papers which tell open lies to increase sales? The Daily Express is about the worst - they literally make things up. Others, like the Mail, are deliberately misleading. I know it's not only to do with parenting, but I think this constant spiteful dishonesty and finger pointing in the media is very bad for our children. It makes them cynical and they shouldn't be. I think that analysing when you're being told lies is something that should be taught in schools.

  7. Happy Father's day to all the fathers...and the video is great! :)

  8. In a perfect world, I think parents should at least make preliminary decisions about the division of duties regarding child-rearing (!!) before they have any children. Personally, I cannot see how it makes any difference if one parent has more responsibilities than the other as long as they both are active in the process. Mostly, I think life does not follow a formula and parents must be flexible to adjust to changing situations in their lives and place the well-being of the children first.

  9. I so agree with you. I think women also have to get used to the idea that men may care for children a little differently than they do, but that that can also be okay. (Having said that, it is pretty hard to be a women raising a child in the modern world--the more help the better.) Thanks, Cubano.

  10. My father worked away most of the time so he had fewer responsibilities than my mother. Looking back I think it would have been better the other way round. I'm wondering if I grew up to be normal but it's too late to care. What a sad world we live in when rights must be so rigidly exercised. Today's folk should experience the war years - no-one worried about child-raising rights then. After reading your post I felt glad that I don't have too many years left in which to worry about who does what and why!

  11. The 'worst mums and dads' are those that abuse or neglect their children, or fail to keep them safe. This is not gender, nor class, specific (though it is more difficult for parents living in abject poverty to find the emotional space needed to meet all the needs of their children.) Most of the rest of us - men and women - do the best we can. And we would fo even better if employers understood that we all need time with our children, time to do more than pack them off to school and tuck them in at night. It's great to see more dads doing more with their kids - but we've a very long way to go before children are given priority in the big world of work.

  12. I totally agree with Jo...those who abuse or neglect their children are the "worst mums and dads"...all the rest are trying their best. That is all we can do as parents, isn't it? No one can get parenting right all the time. We all make mistakes, and circumstances often make things extremely difficult...and what annoys me most of all, is that those who make these claims all-too-often have no idea what it is like to raise children without the aid of a nanny and various other "helpers" whom only those in their situations can possibly afford.
    I always say, "Experience it yourself before commenting"...especially in the media!

    Happy Father's Day! :)

  13. Fabulous post, as usual. I'm not a parent, but I grew up in a time when mothers were expected to stay home and take care of the children while the fathers worked. I am seeing more fathers with their little kids now, a big and welcome change from the world I grew up in.

    Oh, and the Daily Hate sounds its best used for wrapping fish and lining the bottoms of bird cages.

  14. An interesting discussion. Some progress is being made, but you include a very telling point, about the inequity in wages. Well done.

  15. Fab post and so true. Interesting.

  16. Totally agree with you: raising a child is what it's all about, and making one doesn't make you a parent.

  17. Such a fantastic post - hope you won't mind me social media sharing the heck out of it :)
    More fathers like you is what the world needs now! I got super lucky with my Dad as you know from my blog, and you are passing on that same gift of inner confidence to your kids.
    Happy Father's Day xx

  18. Happy Father's Day! I'm guessing that you are not a 24-minute dad? The sad thing is the UK is ahead of the USA on stuff like maternity and paternity leave and vacation days. Yes, the Scandinavians have the right idea. I love how you look at this issue socially and economically and with an international perspective. I don't regret the time I've devoted to my kids, even though it meant that my writing career is now taking a late post-nesting launch. Also my husband switched from banking to academia in part to be able to spend more time with family.



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