A couple of weeks ago our attention was drawn to this article in The Guardian, set out as a comic strip but with a serious message at its heart: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/26/gender-wars-household-chores-comic?CMP=share_btn_tw alongside the question ‘How would you make this work?’ It may be appropriate to consider this topic on Fathers’ Day.
In the UK equality legislation was enacted within the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and most recently the Equality Act 2010. Common sense would dictate however that the true impact of equality comes not for the power of the law but from personal and societal attitudes and values. Nowhere is this more powerfully demonstrated than in the home and in a family environment.
Two weeks after the birth of the youngest child of one of the Healthy Toolkit team he was introduced to a new member of staff as ‘our token New Man’. This was in the late 1990s for those unfamiliar with the phrase. It was a term he was entirely comfortable with, our colleague asked the DHT why she had described him so. ‘You’re a man who knows his way round a kitchen, you read, watch sub-titled films, wear pink without being self-conscious, don’t flirt with your female colleagues and you cry. But most of all you’re a great dad.‘
Though anecdotal, this does reflect upon the place that living by decent values has. Fairness and equality would feature in the values spectrum of any man, particularly one who has become a father. Fatherhood isn’t a status symbol; is a role with great responsibility.
Responsibility doesn’t stop at conception! Though men will never know the discomfort of morning sickness and the pain of childbirth, but they should be there to support in much more than a tokenistic manner.
It is after your baby has arrived that you really show your mettle. Gentlemen reading this may have taken their fair share of night feeds, nappy changing, washing soiled clothes at unearthly hours. Equally there will be plenty who don’t. Have you sat up all night cradling your unsettled offspring to allow your wife or partner to rest? Have you taken the car out at 3am and driven up and down the bypass until the little one drops off?
Or do you come home and expect your dinner to be ready and the house spotless with the children already tucked up in bed? Do you play the ‘I can’t work the hoover’ card? Or play the ‘kitchen buffoon’ gambit? Even if you are no Jamie Oliver, any fool can fry an egg, make an omelette or even cook a ready meal or a tray of oven chips.
Parenthood is an emotionally and physically draining experience, but it is one which needs to be shared as equitably as possible. Both partners have lives, both have careers, both have responsibilities. Are the men making sure the balance of life, career and responsibility is equal? Aforementioned offspring barely slept the night for 18 months. She has grown to be a cultured, sensitive, intelligent, creative and progressive young adult, because we got the balance right.
Rights to paternity leave have changed in recent years. Gone are the two day limits. https://www.gov.uk/paternity-pay-leave/overview provides more information and parental leave can be shared https://www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay/overview though we still have a long way to catch up with the Swedes who have 40 days of paid parental leave to share.
We know in our profession that many of our children do not have a stable male role model in the home. Many of them will have a father that indulges in macho posturing at Parents’ Evenings, at the school gate or on the sidelines at Sports Day. Some of our children have absent fathers, through marital breakdown, domestic violence, substance misuse or simply through a denial of responsibility. Many of us will know of at least one child who has never met their father and others who don’t have the father’s name on their birth certificate.
Male teachers aren’t substitute fathers, but they do for many children represent the only stable, reliable, consistent and responsible male presence in their lives. Our conduct sets an example to them: in not fulfilling macho stereotypes; in the respectful way to treat women and girls; in settling conflict with words not fists; in our responsible conduct online and on social media.
Any fool can make a baby. Responsibility is much more than blood type and DNA. You have created a life. You have created that life with someone you love, and that life needs to embody the values, culture and responsibility that both parents hold dear. To be a father takes time; takes dedication; embraces a mindset to share the role and to take on more than a fair share of responsibility.
It takes heart, it takes soul, it takes spirit, it takes a real man to be a daddy!