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The change of personnel in the White House next week is an opportunity to progress the working dads agenda. But we must learn from Obama’s example
I try not to get too political in these blogs. All political persuasions are welcome. Every political party ought to have a plan for families and fathers among their policies. Anyone who genuinely wants a wealthier nation and a happier population will have gender equality at the heart of their programme.
But I don’t think it’s too controversial to welcome the end of Donald Trump’s time in the White House.
He’s not a man who believes in gender equality. He does not embody the qualities vital to creating a working world that works for dads, mums and everyone – empathy, equality, inclusivity.
Donald Trump looks like an aberration. Literally and historically. His successor famously told staff that work life balance is important. Joe Biden’s suffered family tragedy. His politics is shot through with empathy. I’ve wondered before whether the big change wrought on society and workplaces by the pandemic won’t be something practical like hybrid working but a more intangible but no less revolutionary drench of empathy.
And this week I discovered that the other bookend to the Trump years was equally on board with a more modern outlook on family and work.
I received Barack Obama’s memoir A Promised Land as a Christmas present. Inevitably. And early on he talks of working hard at law and community organising and his nascent political career to the detriment of his family. Running for president doesn’t seem an obvious way to buy yourself more family time. And yet what made him a good man, a good boss and a good president was at least the recognition that he ought to strive to be a good father too.
Obama grew up without his father around. He doesn’t go into detail in this book but his step father doesn’t seem to have been much cop either. Essentially Obama learned first hand what a bad dad looks like – either absent of overbearing. And he wanted to be better. It’s inspiring in these dark days to learn that someone as ace as Obama is essentially on your side. The work we do at workingdads.co.uk fits with his vision of what a man and a dad should look like.
But of course Obama couldn’t make his vision stick. When a woman stood to take over at the end of his term Hillary Clinton was defeated by a misogynist, fuelled by the votes of folk who fear a strong woman with a clear and loud voice.
So there’s a lesson for those of us who want to see change in 2021. There’s good people on our side. But there’s other people, many of whom are also good, who are fearful of change. They need to be brought onside. The case for a different version of masculinity, one that includes caring responsibilities and flexible working, is strong to the point of indestructibility. But we must make it gently and powerfully and not be angry or alienating. It won’t be easy. It requires work (and self care – I for one remain at least part scrambled since homeschool started up again and I have to recognise that consequently my capacity for changing the world is limited for now).
But as of next week Donald Trump gets the boot and once again the most powerful man in the world is on our side. This time we’ve got to make that advantage count.