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It’s a simple ask for working dads, but it can make a big difference: talk
Dads need to speak up. Sometimes when I say that I mean they need to make their voices heard in the political sense, demand more paternity leave, ask employers to expand their parental policies.
One of the key parts of the discussion was Ian Blackwell’s findings from his research into dads groups. Men, he said, don’t talk to each other. Staff at these groups and gatherings have to facilitate discussion. At one forest school style dads group men gather round a camp fire but they only open up once one of the organisers lobs in an opener about the last time they stood round an outdoor flame.
On one level that’s infuriating. Just as we struggle to shake off the breadwinner stereotype – as evidenced by the number of stay at home dads in the webinar who still felt the need to keep up some work – so we can’t kick the strong and silent trope either.
To be clear, we men are not to blame on either front. We’re raised in a certain society, subject to prevailing attitudes and stereotypes that are perpetuated by men and women equally. Throwing them off is at best hard, at worst night on impossible.
I’m as guilty as anyone of taking the easy path of fiddling on my phone rather than get chatting with a stranger.
For dads there are some particular obstacles. If you’re at a mixed parents group for example you’re likely to be one of very few dads there. While the mums can share war stories of birth and breastfeeding inevitably your range of topics might be more limited.
If your children are school age you’ll see the dads hanging back at the school gate. The mums dominate the class WhatsApp group. The school WhatsApp message that starts ‘Ladies..’ is one of my pet hates and I genuinely believe it’s one of the most pernicious elements of social media.
And in the search for commonality sometimes it’s easier to fall back on easy topics like football, nappies and nagging rather than feelings and shared parenting challenges.
But we dads do have choice. And we ought to take it. On the occasions I’ve switched off Twitter and started talking to the person next to me at a dads event (they will come back soon!) or at a parents group I’ve benefited from it. The mum who I got chatting to on my son’s first trip to the nursery when he was in reception remains my staunchest ally in challenging sexism in the class WhatsApp. The blogger I spoke to at the launch of a report on dads gave me insight into what content parents want. The PR man I engaged in conversation revealed that he and his fellow new dads in his office were struggling with the same issues and confirmed the need for a site like this one.
As lockdown unwinds and we’re allowed out and about more think about talking to the other dad in the playground, go for an outdoor coffee with the father at the school gate, just say hello to a neighbour. Not much is certain these days but I can guarantee you won’t regret it.