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2020 has been a stinker. But it’s thrown up the opportunity for working dads to change the world in 2021
It’s traditional for any end-of-year column to make predictions about what might happen in the year to come. Not this year.
And yet. I look back at a number of blogs I wrote and articles I published here a year ago and they proved prescient. There was a widespread feeling that flexible working would catch on in 2020, and through the 2020s. That proved accurate, and how. Just not in the way anyone could have foreseen.
I also write politics columns for Aberdeen newspaper the Press and Journal. Again, my final column of 2019 was smart. That one was looking back at the politics of the previous decade but the conclusion was that governments, like of all of us, are ultimately at the mercy of events. Again, that was reinforced this year.
It’s interesting that through all the turbulence of this year the two conclusions have held. Could they be truths? There’s a premium on hard and fast findings these days, if you discover one (or more) they ought to be treasured.
So I’m keen to apply them to 2021.
Events have contrived to put flexible working on the agenda right now. The government must respond to that. I don’t expect them to hold an inquiry into their own handling of the coronavirus because the findings are unlikely to reflect well on them. But the pressure to consider the world of work and how it’s been altered by the pandemic experience will surely count as an event they cannot ignore.
Already others are considering the implications. Think tank Demos are already on it and I’ll be tapping up their director Polly MacKenzie (who, by the way, has a really excellent bike) to see if I can feed our findings into that. Those findings have been one of the most gratifying things of 2020. I’m extremely proud of our ‘working dads and lockdown’ series. And I’m pleased it proved so many working dads were endeavouring to process and understand their own experience of this year and the changes that impacted them and those like them.
But all that also increases the pressure on those of us who are wedded to the working dads agenda or making life better for working dads, changing the way we work, achieving gender equality.
We have to act now.
As, fingers crossed, the Covid vaccine turns the tide on the pandemic there will be an understandable urge to return to ‘business as normal’. The pre pandemic ways will appear as a comfort blanket. Those of us who don’t want to go there, who want to build back better, will have to make our case.
We must step up, speak out, argue for change.
Already there are signs that 2021 might be a good one for reconsidering masculinity. Book of Man editor Martin Robinson, who’s been leading the conversation around what it means to be a man for a few years now, has a book out in February. MusicFootballFatherhood supremo Elliott Rae will publish his book DAD in the spring having been turned down by a number of publishers only to smash his crowdfunding target to bring the book to market. Despite what some will say, there’s an appetite for thoughtful and challenging texts on masculinity and fatherhood.
Work will feed into that. So let’s state the argument here and now. Learn it. Repeat it. Use it to challenge complacency and backsliding and change the world.
If men work differently, whether that homeworking, part-time hours or one of the multitude of models of flexible working, they are happier and healthier. They do more at home (which is part of the reason they are happier and healthier) and that frees up women to press on with their own careers if that’s what they want to do.
Their children benefit from having them around more. Children of engaged fathers are happer, healthier, smarter, less likely to get in trouble with the law and more likely to have a gender equal outlook.
Also – and this is an argument that I’ve always turned to last as being a little grubby but as the economy needs more aid it becomes more pressing – the national economy is boosted by gender equality to the tune of billions of pounds. We’re going to need that. And bear it in mind as the governments of the world grapple with rebuilding their shattered economies. There is a solution staring them in the face. If they choose to ignore it that’s a conscious, and sexist, decision.
The arguments are clear. The pandemic has provided more evidence to support them as men have spent more time at home and enjoyed it.
2020 was about survival, making it through with body and mind intact. Doing so is an achievement, give yourself credit for it. And don’t judge yourself harshly if you have not.
Events have conspired to force alternative ways of working on to the agenda. Let we working dads who feel able seize this moment, entrench the changes we want to see and make 2021 a year for action.