The current image of fathers that society proliferates is of well-meaning oafs – Feckless Fathers, who are more interested in their own work/hobbies than in their children. They shy away from hard or dirty jobs like discipline or changing nappies.
Or worse, Authoritarian Patriarchs who combat ‘bad’ behaviour with totalitarian dictatorship. Whose children live in fear of them. Who label this fear ‘respect’.
Neither the permissive weakling nor the angry macho version of fatherhood has ever sat right with me.
I have the honour of being Daddy to two gorgeous twin boys. And the best advice I can give regarding fatherhood came from a Male-only antenatal course. If you can find one running in your area, get onto it!
We got to talk through the physics of birth in detail (not the time to be squeamish!), do a baby budget, and ask all those questions you’d never dare ask in a room full of pregnant women!
For example: What should I do if she poos during labour?!
Spoiler alert: The answer is NEVER tell her, or anyone else. The midwife will subtly whisk it away and won’t comment. Don’t react, and do your best to forget it ever happened! Deny all knowledge if she asks…
We watched a newborn baby getting her first bath, and even changed a nappy on a doll which had simulation poo – peanut butter… yum…
The best aspect of the course? Being challenged to consider what sort of father I intended to be.
We spent a short session reflecting upon and brainstorming what we valued most about our own fathers: a collection of never-perfect but mostly well-intentioned, average dads.
From these descriptions, we came up with a list of attributes together that we wanted to employ in ourselves, as we learned to father our own children.
Essentially it boiled-down to this:
Be intentional about Fatherhood.
This was what I decided – my manifesto, if you like:
I want my boys to know I love them and be willing to show affection so they can see it’s normal and good.
I want to show them that they can reach for me and know I will always be there.
That means taking care of all their needs, both physical and emotional, regardless of traditional, gendered parenting roles.
From the start, I wanted to be present and hands-on. I set myself a goal to do all the nappies (around 22 per day). For at least the first 7 days, my wife didn’t change a single one. (She particularly relishes that she never had to deal with any meconium!)
To this day, if I am home, she doesn’t need to change any bums, although thankfully that poo schedule has reduced somewhat!
Muscled-Out or on Cruise Control?
In many (albeit not all) families, it seems to be the case that the mum does everything and the dad just does the fun bits. Of course there are many exceptions to this trend, but sadly this is the pattern that society has come to expect.
I don’t think this reflects upon a man’s actual ability to parent well, but on the individual father’s choice to conform to society’s definition of a dad, allowing himself to be iced-out of the parenting. Essentially, allowing society’s perception of Feckless Fathers to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the other hand, many men have had their confidence as fathers undermined – having swallowed the lie that guys aren’t good at the whole babies thing. And it’s easy to see how this can happen, if no one challenges the wealth of prejudice:
The constant jokes and stereotypical dads in films & TV.
The historical view of babies being women’s work. (The Patriarchy has a lot to answer for here…)
Hospital staff that ignore the dad and address all comments to the mother.
The lack of provision for dads to stay overnight on the birth ward so they can care for their own babies.
The stupid comments about Daddy Daycare.
The lack of gender-neutral baby-changing facilities.
The implication that if a child is not bottle-fed, there is no way to bond with baby and dad won’t need to be involved at all.
The high praise for doing the most minimal of baby tasks.
How a mum ‘parents’ but a dad is considered to be ‘helping mum out’.
The focus on pregnancy prevention in Sex Ed, portraying pregnancy and childbirth as a negative consequence rather than a blessing. It’s obviously important to educate young people about contraception. But the scaremongering about all the negatives surrounding unplanned pregnancy doesn’t exactly encourage young dads to stick around if it does happen!
On and on it goes…
The Feckless Father
Regardless of these pressures, we aren’t helpless. We all have a choice whether to conform. Whether to accept society’s dim view of dads. Choose today whether you will step-up or give up!
Will you accept a back-seat in the process?
Will you take an interest in important decisions re feeding/sleeping/parenting styles?
Will you allow others (albeit well-meaning people) to sideline you during hospital visits and the birth itself?
Will you be unsure what to do with a screaming poo machine, or will you read-up on it first, and get stuck-in when the time comes?
Will you maintain your previous frequency of drinking/hobbies/sports whilst your partner has to stay home with baby – rather than having an equal split of responsibility and self-care?
Will you intentionally bond with baby from day one, or will you always feel unsure when you occasionally ‘babysit’?
I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m far from it…
I spend too much time gaming or on my phone. I believe in Gentle Parenting, but get frustrated and angry when I ‘know’ what they need but they won’t calm down enough to let me help them, or get a word in edge-ways.
I’ve snapped at my wife from sheer tiredness and broken down after sleepless nights only to be asked to to change just 1 more nappy.
I’ve been so sleep-deprived that I have hallucinated that I’m still holding a baby, when in fact it’s just my duvet! (You can see the babies in grey are both safely in their cosleeper…)
Fatherhood is hard, but I’ve made my choice and I will keep choosing to engage even when I fail. My boys deserve my best – better, in fact – and I want to do them proud.
A Call to Arms
This post is NOT about telling other Dads how to parent. You will be a Bespoke Daddy – your parenting tailored to your individual family’s needs, and that’s going to look different in every household.
But it IS a call to arms. Show up. Invest yourself. Put thought, energy, time and money into your family, and don’t settle for less when it gets hard. Let’s change the stereotype of what makes a Dad.
Regardless of our family’s specific choices, what I’m trying to communicate to you is my decision not to take a back seat.
Never allow your role to be filled by another.
No one can do it better than you.
Fathers are important and fatherhood is a calling not lightly taken-up or easy to bear. You can tell because those mistakes our own fathers made are still affecting us now.
I’m part of the Dad network Dads Group, a community on Facebook that seeks to promote fatherhood and especially the choice to be a SAHD.
What kind of father do you want to be? If you’ve made mistakes (we all have) it’s never to late to fix things. It might be hard, painful or feel impossible but you can always strive to do better for your family.
This post is linked-up with: