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New book is an unvarnished and entertaining tale of one man’s adventures in childcare.
“I’ve got short legs.” It’s the obvious answer to an obvious question really: why Joe Clapson titled his book about taking Shared Parental Leave ‘The Diary of Daddy Shortlegs’.
“They’re not freakishly short,” the 5’ 9” dad of two adds. “I was just looking for a catchy name for my blog and it stuck.”
Joe set himself a task to blog every day while on his first Shared Parental Leave with daughter Alexa in 2016. Another baby and another stint of SPL later he’s pulled his writing together into an unvarnished and entertaining account of fatherhood.
There’s plenty of his own shortcomings in there and the occasionally graphic account of nappy failure but mainly it’s a positive story. “I wanted to shine a light on what goes on during the average day as a dad,” explains Joe. “It’s the most tiring job in the world, but it’s also hilarious. I want to highlight what a good time Shared Parental Leave can be.”
Certainly what comes across from the book is that Joe was having fun, even in the face of some trying circumstances sometimes.
“I took her to baby swimming and I was feeling quite smug because I was really organised. I put my swimming shorts on beforehand so I didn’t have to worry about anything in the changing room and I could concentrate on her. I had the swimming nappy with me, we had a great time, we came out and I got her changed then realised I’d failed to pack any clothes for myself.
“The swimming group all went for coffee afterwards so I had to sit dripping wet and feeding my baby.
“They were laughing and I had to laugh too, I just had to deal with it.”
Some of the stories weren’t that funny at the time – like when he squeezed a child’s toy only to discover it was actually a pin cushion. “When you’re a parent you assume anything soft must be a toy,” he explains. “I must have pierced my hand in a thousand different places!”
Instructive and unusual is the tale of a baby yoga session that went from relaxing to stressful in the blink of an eye when he realised he’d forgotten to pack Alexa’s milk.
As a dad going on Shared Parental Leave – he and his wife took six months each – Joe knew he had to be involved from the beginning, not just in the fun stuff but in the logistics of babycare. “From the outset, after Alexa was born in November 2015, I was very excited and as involved as I wanted to be. But I was also much more aware of what was going on because I knew I’d be taking over in a few months time. There was a realisation that I needed to be really swept up in the administration, things like what you need to take out of the house, if I just wanted to go for a coffee or to go to swimming – everything has to line up.”
The flip side of that is that it was easier for his wife to go back to work without a penalty to her career. “That was a big thing,” adds Joe. “She talks a lot about how it’s helped her career and her progression and the fact that she could go back to work knowing the baby was 100% in safe hands. It’s a different mindset among colleagues who’ve gone back to work and put their child into nursery or with a childminder at that point.”
Joe’s such a fan of Shared Parental Leave he’s done it twice now and he’ll be doing it again next year. He’s a third child on the way in January. With the policy only coming into force six months before his oldest daughter was born he must be one of the heaviest users of SPL in the UK.
“We were always going to do it,” he says. “Even before we had children I knew I wanted to take as much time off as possible.”
He reckons other families are put off by the expense or by a feeling their workplace won’t allow it.
He points out that it’s a legal right so the latter reason isn’t a flyer. Joe’s a press officer for the Army. He says his employer, the civil service, weren’t clued up when he first said he’d be taking SPL but they’ve been incredibly helpful and quickly got up to speed.
As for cash Joe admits the statutory parental leave pay of under £150 per week doesn’t look like much. But he’s convinced folk just need to do their sums.
“We saved a bit of money, we tightened the purse strings, I wasn’t spending much while I was on SPL. We’re not rolling in money but we worked out me being off was still cheaper than sending my daughter to nursery. It’s achievable if you want to do it.”
And publishing the book is part of Joe’s efforts to persuade more people to take up Shared Parental Leave as it can benefit everyone involved – dad, mum and baby.
“It’s not a how to guide,” he adds. “It’s my experience and I’d encourage other people to have their own experience. Taking Shared Parental Leave is an experience for your family that it’s impossible to replicate later.”
The Diary of Daddy Shortlegs is available on Amazon