Who Knew? by Michael Ray, exploring fatherhood and gender equality

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If 2021 is going to be remembered for anything, it’s going to be The Year of the Dad Book. Who Knew? by Australian gender equality campaigner Michael Ray tells his story as a single dad to his daughter Charlie, while commenting on gender equality and the challenges he has faced over the years.

Michael Ray, author, dad and gender equality campaigner.
Michael Ray: Single dad, gender equality campaigner and author of Who Knew?

Who Knew? Is an essentially an autobiography and also a study of how men are treated as fathers. Let’s just take a stop back for a second and look at the autobiographical elements revealed in this book.

An older dad…who isn’t very good at driving

Ray didn’t become a father until he was 49. Just six months later he split up from his wife. Shortly after this he did what many a man (…and woman) has done following a break-up: He went out for an evening and didn’t make it home for three days.

Following his three-day bender, Ray drove himself home from a complete stranger’s house (you’re left to come to your own conclusion as to whether he should have been behind the wheel of a vehicle). The inevitable happened and he smashed his car nose first into a tree trunk. He was taken to hospital by ambulance and to cut a long story short, the resulting tests highlighted serious underlying health conditions Ray was not aware he had.

The was his Epiphany moment. Ray knew he had to take fatherhood more seriously and that’s what he did.

The ballet incident

Following the split from Charlie’s mum, Ray ends up raising his daughter single handed. Having had his Epiphany moment, he finds himself barred from helping Charlie get changed for a ballet performance. Not just Ray, but all “males.”

Ray fights and wins for his right to help his young daughter get changed. This is just one of many battles he goes on to fight in the name of equality.

In the first chapter, Ray reflects on his own father. He concedes his dad was of a generation seen as distant disciplinarians, but recognises the strength his had, especially while ensuring his family was okay following the death of Ray’s brother.

In the following chapter, Ray questions masculinity and why men are seen as providers. He says he has been judged by both men and women for being the main (…sole) caregiver to Charlie. “What is typically masculine?”  Ray asks “barbells and biceps?”

The barbells and biceps comment is pertinent to Ray’s story. He is a larakin, as they say down under. He’s worked as a bouncer protecting rock stars and he’s a keen weightlifter. I’ve never met Ray, but I’ve seen enough photos of him to know it’d be a bad idea to spill his bottle of Victoria ale.  

Despite this background, gymnastics classes were Ray’s nemesis. He found himself feeling very out of place and uncomfortable at Charlie’s gymnastics classes, “the only unicorn in the village,” as he referred to himself, the only dad sat among all the mums.

Commenting on pre-fatherhood life, Ray makes this observation of his behaviour and masculinity:

 “I realised I was trying to belong to a bunch of blokes who were tyring top belong to a bunch of blokes who were trying to belong to a bunch of blokes.”  

Is a mother’s love more important than a father’s? Ray takes on this misconception. He says this about gender equality:

“When men are held equally responsible for raising the next generation, women will achieve true equality.”

Ray is absolutely right. There is so much focus on achieving gender equality in the workplace that men such as Ray (dare I say it, men such as myself) are overlooked. Ray has a lived experience that shows men can be caregivers for children yet how many Government policies acknowledge this and encourage men to do more on the domestic front? If you don’t unlock men’s potential as caregivers, women will be left wearing the apron and stuck behind the kitchen sink.

Who Knew book cover, written by Michael Ray
The cover of Who Knew? by Michael Ray

I could write so much more about this book, but then there’d be no need to explore it yourself. Let’s juts say it’s well researched and referenced and Ray’s writing style makes you want to read more, the following being one of my favourite quotes:

“Funny isn’t it. The idea of a father having parenting instincts is as foreign as clean feet on a pig.”

In essence, however, Ray concludes that families are changing. This is something acknowledged by parenting author Maggie Dent in the book’s foreword. Dent stresses that we’re experiencing a cultural change as fathers are embraced as “capable, caring parents.”

Nuclear families are being challenged and yet Ray is honest enough to admit he wasn’t aware of any of this until he became a dad, hence the book’s title “Who knew?” Despite this positive shift, Ray argues there is more to be done for dads to be seen as truly equal to mums.

Oh, and the final chapter of the book, well that was written Charlie. She concedes her dad wears shorts in winter and apparently eats all the chocolate. Perhaps some dad stereotypes are based on fact after all? 

One last point I feel I must make. As I said at the start, 2021 seems to be shaping up as the Year of the Dad Book. Until now, if you looked in any library or book store, books about fatherhood would have been written in a tongue in cheek style or focused solely on the early years of childhood. More often than not, fatherhood books were usually humorous and focused on the early years meaning they were very limited in nature and outlook. I’m not too sure why, but something has happened over recent months. Ray’s book joins a growing number of quality fatherhood titles that don’t fit in the humorous / early years pigeon holes.  

Who Knew? follows Simon Kettlewell’s Eternity Leave, a work of fiction focused on his 20 year’s experience as a stay at home dad. Single Dad by photographer Harry Borden is a collection of portrait images of men like Ray who are raising families on their own. Finally there was Dad, a collection of 20 fatherhood stories which was published just last week by the Music Football Fatherhood team.

Each of these titles is very different. Each book shows the amazing diversity of the dad experience. It’s great to see such titles finally making it into print and wonderful to see Michael Ray’s candid, honest thought provoking book joining them.   

Who Knew? By Michael Ray is on general release from today, 7 June, 2021. It is published by Daisylane publishing and has a cover price of £14.99. Find out more about the author and order your copy from Ray’s website.

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