This morning I took my little girl, Meri, to the Frog’s Chorus – a baby and toddler music session. As we settled into the group, I looked around the room and, yet again, I found myself in a situation where I was the only man present.
Mums take their kids to sing-a-longs on Friday mornings, Dads don’t. Apart from me, that is. And I suppose that is why I was asked by Matt and PK to write this blog for DadTalk. I am a man living in a predominantly woman’s world.
I am proud to say that for the next nine months I am a stay at home Dad. My two year old son was born very prematurely and has cerebral palsy and my wife and I agreed that I should take a year out to spend with my young family to make sure that they all get the best start possible in life. This means that I am a very hands on Dad who does a lot of the things that Mum’s normally do: I take and pick up Arun from his nursery school; I take Arun to his medical appointments and I do the shopping in Sainsbury’s. Rest assured that I have not been completely domesticated – I still go to the pub with the boys and make a point of reading the newspaper back to front. But, my job for the next year is basically running after the kids.
Reactions to this are interesting. Even in these enlightened times, people are surprised when Dad gets involved. Only this week, the cashier in Sainsbury’s asked, “So, you’ve been sent out to do the shopping today?” Everyone assumes that Mum understands the children and Dad drives the car and to carries the bags. When Arun started nursery school all of the questions were directed at Clare. When I answered most of them the staff looked a little confused and would then look to Clare to confirm that what I had said was really right. On another occasion, the Occupational Therapist came to see us at home. I welcomed her, got her a cup of tea and started to talk to her about what Arun’s needs were. She stopped me and said, “We’ll just wait for Mum before we get going.” I had to explain to her that Mum wasn’t coming and although she found it surprising, I did actually know my son well enough to discuss his seating needs.
The flip side of it is that once people understand that you are a hands-on Dad their reaction is great. The nursery nurses at Arun’s school and the medical staff we come across always say how great it is that Dad is getting so involved. Most of the other mums we meet approve of what we are doing. I like to think that having a bloke in some of the sessions that have previously been all female makes them a little more interesting. However, I am sorry to report that I have had no inappropriate female attention as a result of being the only man in the room. I suppose it is difficult come across as sophisticated yet rakishly handsome with a snotty two year old clinging to your food covered jeans…
The irony of it all is that I am getting huge amounts of credit for doing what women have always done. My wife has given up a very successful career for the past three years to raise our children. No-one stops her in the street to tell her what a wonderful and courageous decision she has made. At the same time I should not have to battle to be taken seriously as a primary carer for my children. The frustrations of being a stay at home Dad are more than balanced out by the brownie points that I get for doing what women have always been expected to do.
I suppose I am a part of a revolution being driven by changing economic and social conditions as more and more men are talking a greater and greater role in family life. I think it is important that we do take more responsibility and that we get the support and plaudits for doing it. However, let’s not forget the plaudits for the women in our lives who have been doing it for generations.