Brian Ballantyne has pulled his ‘Confessions of a Working Father’ blogs into a book considering the different pressures working dads face
‘Confessions of a Working Father’ may not be the most appropriate title for Brian Ballantyne’s book.
For he’s no shame in admitting he likes doing the washing, dons an apron when he gets home from work and wishes he’d taken more paternity leave.
However his remarkably open memoir about his family life growing up and the family life he leads today with his partner and two sons is about more than just challenging some of the norms of masculinity.
He’s keen to achieve change. And that starts with claiming the title of working father (he’s following workingdads.co.uk there!).
“I’m a working father myself and my job is in workplace diversity. I wracked my brains for ways I could get men involved in that conversation.
“Sharing my experiences seemed like a good first step. It got a mixed reaction at first. I was told women have it harder for example, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy for men. But over time some of my biggest critics have become my biggest supporters.”
The blogs, which Brian initially posted on LinkedIn, mine his experience growing up in the North East and Birmingham. Inevitably any dissection of parenting involves looking at your own parents. And he also discusses his current work life balance. He works for Amazon in Luxembourg and lives there with his partner Kate and two children aged 12 and 10.
“I felt quite vulnerable blogging at first,” he admits. “It’s still quite surprising to find men talking about parenting.”
He’s keen to change that with parenting or family networks rather than or as well as women’s networks for example. “There’s so much focus on women’s networks but I don’t see them making much of a difference.
“Everyone’s part of a family. And if you’re a parent, particularly of small babies or teenagers, you’re going to come up against a lot of the same issues and have a lot in common whether you’re a man or a woman.”
When Brian first became a dad Luxembourg law meant he had to choose between just two days of paternity leave or six months. A decade ago the latter was so unusual he plumped for just a few days off.
With his wife in hospital after a difficult birth and parents and in-laws around the house he found he had to make a special effort to get involved in the nitty gritty of being a dad.
But he’s maintained his commitment to his role as father of two. For example he’s strict policies around switching off when he’s at home outside office hours. That’s where the pinny comes in. Donning his apron is a physical manifestation of the switch from work to home.
He also blogs about how the divide between work and home can be blurred in the other direction. He coins the intriguing new phrase ‘Parenting from Work’ – the flipside to working from home. He points out that plenty of parents may be physically at work yet mentally concerned that the nursery is going to ring or surreptitiously checking the whereabouts of their teenager after school. He calls this parenting from work.
It’s these stresses that are driving the demand for flexible working. “The new generation of workers won’t accept anything less than flexible working and the talent will go to companies that offer flexibility.”
He’s also keen to see part time work more widespread. “There’s lots of pressure on dads to be present at work. If you’re part time you’re not seen as serious. We need to get rid of the machismo that drives that.”
Role models are key to driving change. At Amazon Brian’s seen bosses take parental leave of three and six months recently.
But he makes clear in his book that men don’t just look to other, particularly more senior men, to take their lead. His step mum taught him valuable lessons. As a teenager when his rugby coach sent a letter home asking if the ‘mums, sisters and girlfriends’ would like to make tea and sandwiches for the lads and their dads after each home game Brian’s step mum sent an angry letter about stereotypes right back.
“She taught me how to speak out, how to challenge things if you’re not happy with them,” Brian explains. “Role models and mentors don’t have to be the same gender.”
He adds, “The best thing we can do is be role models ourselves and try to empower others to step up.”
Confessions of a Working Father is available from Amazon (of course!) here. All proceeds from sales of the book go to Winston’s Wish, a charity for bereaved children and adults who were bereaved as children.