Since becoming a dad, I’ve acquired all kinds of new skills I never dreamt I would need…
I can feed my baby daughter her bottle while eating one handed myself, change nappies in the dark and identify the different needs behind different cries. I’ve also learned some strange ways of stopping tantrums in their tracks, including the ‘Tiger in the tree’ hold, imitating the noise of an electric toothbrush and playing the music of a very specific French electronica band.
I was recently called upon – twice on the same day, as it happens – to give my opinion on radio interviews of the top 50 dad skills. A survey of 2,000 dads commissioned by the team behind kids’ favourite Bob the Builder provided the basis for the list, which includes such things as removing adhesive substances from surfaces and picking blackberries.
Furthermore, the average dad believed they had only mastered 46% of these skills. My concern isn’t with the low attainment rate, but with the answers that people gave.
First of all, some of the so-called skills are a little demeaning to dads. I wouldn’t have thought telling bad jokes was something to aspire to or, indeed, that would go on a Dad CV were such things to exist.
Thinking about the kind of thing that I listed at the start of this post, the common denominator is that they are parent skills. You don’t have to hail from a specific gender to ace them.
I can’t help but think that the participants in the survey felt some kind of societal obligation to list things perceived as either manly or arbitrary tasks. Dads aren’t the two dimensional characters these results seem to suggest.
It spoke volumes that, when one newspaper’s website ran an article based on the survey, it led with a picture of Homer Simpson.
There are also some glaring omissions from the list. Conspicuous by their absence were things like spending time with the kids and being a good role model. The only skill that came remotely close was keeping confidences. While it was high up on the list, it was still two places below untying difficult knots.
While I’m sure the intentions behind the survey were honourable, they’ve done little more than throw petrol on the flames of the notion that dads are feckless figures of fun.
The week after the survey was published, I found myself on the radio again. I’m not normally this much in demand! This time, I was asked to share my views on the fact that the Bisto family has made a return to our screens and that the dad now plays much more of a hands-on role.
This is much more like it and I’d like to see more of the same. Dads are an integral part of the family and not peripheral characters who exist to fix punctures and teach their offspring how to throw properly.
Other areas of the media should take note and follow this example. I believe that we’re in the early stages of a cultural shift that will eventually see dads accepted as equal parents, but more needs to be done to give this change of perceptions momentum.