James Brown famously sang “It’s a man’s world”. I’m sorry but after nine months as a stay at home Dad I have to take issue with the Godfather of Soul. Far be it for me to challenge Mr Dynamite but whilst it may have been a man’s world in sixties and seventies ‘Vegas it is far from a man’s world as a stay at home Dad in a market town in the leafy shires. The fact is I am surrounded by women pretty much all day long and as a bloke that brings its own joys and challenges.
If I were a rockstar living in the sixties and seventies in ‘Vegas being surrounded by women would be a great thing, a wonderful thing, a thing of joy. However, I am a happily married man who is currently sporting a pretty feeble attempt at a moustache and who dresses like a tramp most days because of the splatter that comes with raising two energetic toddlers. You can safely assume that I am getting no extra-curricular action. To be honest it has been years since I had as much as a sideways glance.
A lot of the time I find myself feeling a little awkward. When I go to pick up Arun or Meri from their nurseries, I am usually the only man there. Surrounded by local Mum’s I usually nod politely in the direction of some faces I may know, ask discretely about how little Johnny or Matilda is getting on and then dry up. I have got looking meaningfully at my shoes down to a fine art. It isn’t that I don’t like the Mum’s, quite the opposite – some of them seem very nice, it’s just I don’t really know how to talk to women I don’t know very well in anything other than a businesslike fashion these days.
The fact is that I don’t want to come across as some sort of creep. Some women clearly don’t know what to make of me. They regard me with guarded suspicion, unable to fathom out what my motives for being a stay at home dad might be. They give me a sideways look and ask questions like, “Are you still at home then?” or “Does your wife earn the money then?” or one said “That would make you a kept man then.” Ouch!
However, most women are incredibly complementary. They use phrases like “admiration” and, “I wish I could persuade my husband to take some time off work like you” which more than make up for the occasional laconic comment.
However, life is different as a stay at home dad. Women, famously have an easy chatty manner that allows them to spend hours discussing how they are feeling, what they watched on TV or what they did at the weekend. They pop around to one another’s houses, have coffee mornings and go shopping together. I struggle with all of these things. When it comes to feelings the thing I feel most is hungry, when it comes to TV I watch very little other than the odd bit of live sport and when it comes to shopping my expeditions are planned with military precision to minimise the amount of time I have to spend in enemy territory.
But then I look around me and I start to notice that there are quite a few men out and about with their kids. Amongst my neighbours there are at least four other men who take an active role in the upbringing of their children. They are either working part time or working from home to be more involved. They also do the nursery and school run and occasionally we will grunt at one another as we pass in the street. We also go to the pub together quite often to swap notes.
Currently only 4% of men are stay at home dads but many more are getting more and more involved. Shared parental leave and more flexible working will create an unstoppable tidal wave of parenting Dads. The world is changing: the Dads are on the march.