Let’s make this Father’s Day count personally, professionally and politically
Father’s Day will be different for me this year for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, my dad died last year so it’s the first year I won’t be visiting a card shop to choose between the nice card featuring a golfer on the front and the funny card featuring a joke about beer or flatulence or hogging the TV remote.
Secondly, I now edit this website aimed at offering dads an alternative to the traditional model of work and fatherhood.
That’s an opportunity to look back at how things have improved for men since my dads era. Except, when it comes to paternity leave, it’s actually my era.
It only became law in 2003. When my daughter was born in 2007 I got two weeks paid at the statutory rate, three years later when my son came along the company I worked for paid the two weeks of paternity leave at full pay. This modernisation was comprehensive though – the intervening years were full of sackings dressed up as streamlining and efficiencies and all that sort of thing. I think I’d have traded the extra pay for the old job security. That’s an issue oft-overlooked when we consider the interplay between work and life. Are men now demanding the opportunity to spend more time with their families because where previously their job kept them out of the home but was effectively guaranteed for life they now get neither financial security nor family fun?
Shared Parental Leave, that kicked in in 2015, came too late for me to take advantage. It’s undoubtedly a huge step forward in gender equality. But take up is poor, hinting that a lot of men aren’t entirely keen on gender equality.
So, what changed between my dad’s era and mine is attitudes.
When I was born my dad went to work and awaited a call to tell him his wife had finished doing the baby and he could come visit, for a bit. By the time my younger brother came along he was allowed in the labour room. Now dads are expected to be by their partner’s side for the hard yards of giving birth.
There was no legislation involved in that change. It was bottom up. And that gives great hope going forward. Could the same apply to other aspects of fatherhood?
A small proportion of dads may be using Shared Parental Leave now but perhaps within a generation it’ll be the done thing, that men who don’t take a bit more than the very minimum time off with their family will be looked at askance, asked to explain their decision just as a dads who opt out of the delivery room are today.
But that won’t happen without those of us who believe in choice and gender equality and the value of engaged dads making the case, normalising the policy, talking up those that pioneer a new face of fatherhood.
And dads are magic. Research this week found that if men are able to help out when needed in the early days of parenthood then their partners will be healthier. The MPs on the cross party group focussed on fatherhood pointed out that for some reason kids reap more benefits when their dads read to them than when mums do. And the latest State of the World’s Fathers report (which I’ll spend the next week studying and digesting so look out for plenty of coverage of its contents on this website) pointed out that a dad who picks up the hoover can change the world.
So I’ve two tips for this Father’s Day.
First, look back. If your dad is still around, get him the nice card and write something meaningful in it while you still can. (Unless he really hates golf).
Secondly, look forward. Think about the dads of the future and what you can do to improve their experience. That might mean spending Father’s Day dusting and cleaning rather than putting your feet up. It might mean talking to other dads or dads-to-be about whether they have thought about taking Shared Parental Leave or reducing their hours.
Whatever’s involved in means doing right, being a role model, trying to make life better for your offspring – and isn’t that ultimately the essence of what being a father means?