A couple of days ago, I appeared in a feature in the Times magazine headlined Rise of the alpha dads. I was one of five stay at home dads talking about why we gave up our careers to look after the children.
I was apprehensive about what would appear in print. Even so, I wanted to participate as it was a superb opportunity to raise the profile of us stay at home dads and create debate about our roles.
You can, therefore, imagine how happy I was to have my wife stroll into the kitchen on Saturday afternoon brandishing the family iPad. “Someone’s started a thread about the Times piece on Mumsnet,” she declared.
As far as I was concerned, this was big stuff! If there’s one group of people I would love to discuss the presence and role of stay at home dads, it’s Mumsnetters. Love Mumsnet or loathe it, there’s no doubting Mumsnetters are an influential group of people. Why else do politicians clammer to feature on this website? The news that someone had started a thread about the Times article was dope, as someone 20 years my junior might say.
Although this puts me at odds with many men, I’ve always had a soft spot for Mumsnet (and also Netmums). Yes, you have to get over the name, yes the quality of the debate on its fora can be questionable and yes it is a resource overwhelmingly used by women. Even so, its strapline is “by parents for parents” and I’ve always felt it has an underlying, pro-father stance. After all, by helping fathers become more involved in family life, you are helping women. I have even been a guest at a couple of Mumsnet events over the years see here and here). But I digress.
The question posed was in the Am I Being Unreasonable (AIBU) thread. It was posed by someone calling themselves holdyourown;
AIBU to feel irked by Times article about Super dads?
Holdyourown went on to ask if such an article would have been written about women for giving up a career to hold the babies.
In my opinion this was a completely fair question. Why on Earth should we be portrayed as super dads simply for looking after our kids?
This, however, only tells a tiny part of the story. The article itself was about 3,000 words in length. At no point was the phrase super dads used within it. Added to this, none of the men interviewed referred to themselves as super dads.
The phrase had been used as a teaser both on the front page of the newspaper and the front page of the magazine. That was it, pure and simple. It was possibly not the greatest choice of words, but the article itself did not portray us as super dads.
I’ll be entirely honest, it’s not a phrase I like. I have been called a super dad in the past and it makes me feel uncomfortable, for the very reason holdyourown specified. Mums aren’t considered super so why should I be a super dad simply because I’m the main carer for my kids?
This, however, does miss the point of the article. It was essentially an exploration of the small, but rising, numbers of men who are taking on this traditionally female role. We were specifically asked about the issues we faced.
Some issues were irritating. For instance, one man referred to the unthinking café owner who created a “mummies’ corner” on their premises. Other issues were much more serious. All the men expressed concern that their children miss out on social interaction because mums, for a variety of reasons, can be reluctant to engage with stay at home dads. Probably the most shocking example came from former PepsiCo executive James Lester. Lester said he had been asked to leave a Sure Start Centre, simply because the presence of a male was, aparently, unsettling the female attendees.
I don’t believe dealing with these issues makes us super dads. They are, however, issues that men in our position have to deal with in addition to all the usual stresses of family life and having young children. I think we were quite correct to highlight them.
One of the most fascinating things about the Mumsnet thread is that all the participants missed out on another significant article in the same edition of the magazine. Just a few pages ahead of our article was the story of Svetlana Lokhova, a former banker who has just won a major sexual discrimination case against her former employer after a three year battle. It makes for an interesting comparison; a woman fighting for the right to be treated fairly in the workplace on one page and a group of dads wanting to be treated equally at home and in public just a few pages further on (not that I want to make light of Lokhova’s case. She really does seem to have been through an awful lot).
To conclude, no I don’t think I, or any stay at home father, merits being called a super dad simply for taking on the main childcare role. I am, however, delighted the issue is being talked about.
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