We have to let go of the idea that Dads are, well, a bit crap.
When our first baby was six months old, I went back to work and my partner joined my mothers’ group.
He turned up with a squalling baby on his chest, a nappy bag over his shoulder and a terrified look on his face.
It barely needs to be pointed out that, in a group of 20, he was the only man.
It was difficult for him. Not because the mothers made it difficult – they didn’t, they embraced him and those weekly catch-ups became as much of a lifeline to him as they had been to me – but because he had no roadmap for what a full-time stay at home dad looked like. We didn’t know any.
Mostly, when we told people our plan to split the first year of care for our baby between us 50-50, these were the reactions:
Women would be incredulous that I would trust a Mere Male with a baby and would tell me that I would change my mind.
And men were evenly divided into to wistful, “I wish I could do that!” and the horrified: “But why would you want to do that?”
A professional at our Early Childhood Centre snorted at the very idea. “Men ARE NOT good with little babies,” she told me. And then, when I’d asked if they had any information about Dads’ groups in our area, “I think they just meet at the pub, don’t they?”
Well, occasionally our mothers’ group met at the pub, but whatever.
Even Peppa Pig knows that fathers are faintly ridiculous (Post continues after video):
We shouldn’t have been surprised by the reaction.
Less than 3 per cent of Australian children have a male primary carer.
In “traditional” Australian family structures, babies and children are still overwhelmingly women’s business. The first year of a baby’s life flies by at snails’ pace, and then often, everyone goes back to work, at least for some of the time, but the woman will continue to do the lion’s share of the domestic heavy lifting, no matter how many hours she works, and in most households, the man will continue to do a small, clearly-defined portion of it, no matter how many hours he works.
Yesterday, I saw the always-impressive Annabel Crabb talk on exactly this at All About Women at Sydney Opera House.
She wrote a book on the topic, The Wife Drought, last year, and an enormous amount of what she’s (beautifully) written is about how domestic and professional life are unavoidably interwined, and whoever is doing most work at home is disadvantaged at work.
Her point, about the enormous professional advantage “a wife” – someone who is remembering to pack the lunch box, that it’s “News” day at school on Fridays and can be there to read the bedtime stories or confiscate screens – is so unarguably correct that it seems incredible no-one had written her book before.
I don’t have a “wife” – but I have half a wife. And my partner has half a wife. Because ever since that first year, we have tackled family life 50-50. It’s not rocket science, but it means that rather than having “IT ALL” – whatever the holy hell that means – we can both have half. Which is, you know, a whole lot better that nothing.