|A new dawn for dads? Not really related to the post, but it was a nice picture...|
Every now and again on a Friday I meet up with one or two other stay at home dads and their children. I launched in to this business cold when we moved to our village last Summer. I was hugely relieved to find I wasn't the only dad at playgroup or in the playground during the week. 'Does it really matter?' you might ask.
It does matter! And here's why (for me at least):
- A chance to start a conversation on common ground. Small talk is not something I (along with 90% of the world) find natural. Any extra pressure, e.g. 'you're a woman, I'm a man', can make it harder.
- Dads are still more likely to be anticipating going back to work or mixing child care with work. I know this one doesn't reflect well on what I'm doing here. I miss the identity that comes with a successful bit of work (conversely, I'm much happier without the lonely crap you get the majority of the time). It's more likely conversation will touch on work and it's strangely comforting to get back in to the language.
- I've been more honest about the difficulties of this role with the dads than with mums. There's also cathartic honesty about how relationships with your wife/partner have changed. This mostly seems to involve complaining about having to pick her clothes of the floor so they can go in to the wash.
- It increases the 'stranger praise' factor by 50% for every dad/child added to the group. Which brings me back to lunch.
"It's the mundanity that gets to me."
Sometimes we meet at a playground or petting zoo (animals, needless to say), and sometimes we have lunch. This one was a pub lunch to mark the return of one of the dads to full time work the next week. He was mostly relieved as far as I could gather, financially and identity wise. He has a slight Rob Brydon twang, and the first time we met he said 'it's the mundanity of it [child care] that gets to me'. I was in the first flush of staying at home at the time. Six months on and I know what he means. Monotony would be my word of choice, but it's the same cry for help.
So, three dads and three kids, none older than three. We found our table and got on with chatting, ordering and keeping the kids busy with the usual range of crayons, books, cutlery and crawling under the table. It being a week day, most of the other tables were full of retired folk. There were a few business lunches going on, and it still makes my heart constrict to see a man in a suit at lunch. I hated business lunches.
An elderly woman who'd been dining with her husband stopped by our table on her way out, and that's when it came. A double barrel of praise and wonder at us being dads looking after our kids, and weren't they well behaved, surely that must be because they were with their fathers. Surely.
Best of all, she assumed out loud that this was a one off and we were helping our other halves out for the day. When we explained this was our full time role, she nearly fainted, then explained she was nearly 80, and in her day men were not and could not be involved. I tried to catch her husbands glance to see if there was a glimmer of objection. But his eyes were dead. He hovered a pace behind her, silently, patiently waiting for her to finish, a mild smile set on his face.
Is that the deal we've made, I wonder? It's a familiar sight of chatty older woman and patient partner waiting, not joining. Will that be reversed or equalised by at least sharing home building? I'm urging myself to make new friends and find playmates for Woody and Eliza. During the week I run the rhythm of the house (and pick up clothes from the floor). At the weekend my wife will step back in for some of this and the passivity I feel makes me sadly cross. During the week, this is my domain. 'You'll need to put those potatoes on now if we're going to eat before 6' is sometimes the best I manage at the weekend. But are we building an equal space for when/if we finally manage to retire? I hope so.
Anyway, the praise was lovely of course. And I get it fairly often from the older generation, in playgrounds or post office queues. I'm guessing they don't randomly praise women out with their kids. What they're doing is normal, but we, apparently, are super dads. Of course we are...
"Woody, stop fussing, I'll come and help you when I've finished writing my blog."