I’m fully aware that I’m no pioneer of a Dad being a primary carer, but I am in the midst of social change where it’s slowly (very slowly) becoming encouraged. Yet it’s going to be tough to write this without my Martyr Coat on and it’s so damn comfortable, I can see why so many people never take it off.
The government providing subsidies for childcare is a great support to those women wanting to return work as soon as they can. Couple that with so many companies offering flexible working arrangements to ensure families are prioritised and suddenly the family dynamics are shifting. When my wife decided she needed a break from watching the screaming tonsils of our child, it was time for her to go back to work. We discussed childcare options, viewed our finances, wept for 42 hours for our past lives and then hobbled together what appeared to be a plan.
Having survived on one wage for a year we thought that we could extend that a little longer and just swap roles for a while. We had both become quite partial to toast for dinner, so we should be fine.
I would take 6 months off to stay at home with our cherub while she returned to her career. I was excited. It’s a rare opportunity for a Dad to spend that much time with his baby.
Raising babies has been, historically, a woman’s domain and there have been generations upon generations to hark back upon. Guys get 3 Men and a Baby as reference material.
It took a few weeks to understand what I was supposed to be doing. There were a couple of times where I was too busy playing and chasing him around the house to remember to feed him, but he would quite raucously remind me when I’d gone beyond his deadline. After a while you learn to tell time via children’s TV programming. Once Teletubbies starts up, lunch needs to be ready or it doesn’t matter how much Tinky Winky dances, the walls will crack with his “Feed Me” howls.
I had a load of time to teach him how to poke out his tongue, appreciate fart noises and hide by standing in the middle of the room with his hands over one eye. We had our routines; swimming lessons, walks to the park, drives to a lake or occasionally to the bright lights of a shopping centre, but there’s only so many Kmart t-shirts to buy and window shopping for the next TV before he got over it all.
Then I found myself in an arid social landscape.
There weren’t a lot of people around during the day. Any of my friends that did have kids were the ones at work. I trialled a catch up with their wives every now and then but Mothers and Fathers have different experiences as parents and there wasn’t much to connect on. Mostly I just wanted a nonsensical analysis of a Local Sports Team or critique of Recent Overly Violent Action Film but it was rarely the right audience.
‘What about family? Surely, they came around to help’. Well Yes, and No. My Mum was all over it when Billy was born, making the hour and half round trip fairly regularly to make sure my wife was OK and to see her newest grandson. My wife’s mum came over whenever she wasn’t working and my sisters would text and call her to check in. When I took over it went eerily quiet.
I don’t mean to say that I was ignored by any means, but I came to understand there’s definitely a natural bond between women (and especially mothers) that isn’t the same with men. This wasn’t active apathy, but just less of a connect. Initially I was really annoyed that the trees suddenly went so still, but rather than throw blame and cross my arms like my toddler, I thought I’d try to understand it a bit further.
I came up with a few fairly obvious reasons as to why I was wandering in the parenting tundra and there wasn’t anything nefarious. A mum doesn’t comfortably know how to talk to her son about babies. To them, their sons are the provider and protector of their grandchildren. The baby conversations, discussions and support have been mother to daughter since homo-sapiens descended from the trees (likely before that. I’ve seen the new Planet of the Apes). Raising babies has been, historically, a woman’s domain and there have been generations upon generations to hark back upon. Guys get 3 Men and a Baby as reference material.
Reflecting back to when I was a kid we would be hustled between aunts houses to sit and play with cousins which I now see as a mother needing to palm off children as much as it was a chance for my cousins to show me side-boob on paused, shaky, M rated VHS during late night sleep overs.
A father raising his baby is rarely able to look back even one generation for advice. My Dad, by his own admission, didn’t get much of a chance to interact with us until we were almost in school. His Dad gave him a handshake on his 18th birthday as a first sign of paternal warmth. So, during my boy’s formative years I’m navigating like Ricky Bobby after selling the rights to his windscreen.
Considering my sisters have a new baby or live a couple of hours away, there weren’t a lot of interactions or visits. They also had friends who have kids the same age, so there was an immediate built-in network of Mums. I have mates with kids too but, as mentioned, they were all at work while I sat home during the day raging at Peppa Pig’s petulance.
While reflecting one day during an unnecessarily aggressive clothes folding session, I had a small moment of clarity as to how to actually deal with these problems and the answer was painfully reflective. It was Me. I need to put in at least half an ass of effort from my end.
Now I’m faced with the endlessly avoided question of how to change my own behaviour. Not the destination I was anticipating.
Hang tight. I’ll see what I come up with…