Fathers’ Stories

In a couple of our recent posts, we’ve had some very striking anecdotes about obstacles that fathers face when trying to do an equal share of childcare. On Helping Fathers Get Involved, Telbort wrote:

I’ve been very keen to be involved as much as possible, but as a male, my efforts were derided by professionals – for example, the maternity nurse took the baby away from me during my half-arsed attempt at a nappy change, and said “your a man you don’t know what you’re doing” whilst my partner, who could barely stand after the caesarean, was instructed to get on with it. Also, my motives in wanting to take on a fair share of responsibility of caring have been viewed with some suspiscion. There are many instances, but two stand-out.

First, during my first visit to a “parents” room (at a shopping centre) where I went to feed and change Telbort jnr two mothers in the room quickly bundled up their babies, eyed me with a knowing (and disaproving) look, and left indignantly.

Second, and most disturbing to me, was the following. Whilst we’re not in the U.K., so don’t have access to any statutory parental leave, my University has tried to create policies which allow fathers the same amount of paid parental leave as mothers. The university takes this very seriously. However, when I enquired, the administrator responsible for the scheme expressed some scepticism about the scheme’s value, and suggested that as a male I was unlikely to help my partner and would probably use the time to play golf.

And on the Equally Shared Parenting post extendedlp wrote:

our gp’s surgery; our health visitor; the nursery school; and on and on all only talk to ME. they only have time for mum. they don’t even ring out home (shared) number: they ring *my* mobile. with nursery, i got in the habit of saying ‘i’m sorry, i don’t handle this sort of thing [didn’t matter what sort of thing it was], so you’ll need to ring my husband’, and they did eventually sort of get the picture. from the health visitor, dad taking baby in for his weekly checks resulted, first, in questions like “and where is mum?” and eventually with health visitor ringing my mobile and demanding to visit me and baby at our home. my child is older now, and so i’m braver, so i’ve instructed mr lp that the next time he gets an “and where is mum?” he must reply “at home watching football on the telly with a big cold can of lager in her hand”.

We need to hear these stories, because we’re never going to get gender justice until fathers are able to be equally involved in parenting. So please, leave us more stories in comments. (And, as a side note, I find them incredibly useful in teaching. My students are generally very shocked to hear about these sorts of barriers.)

11 thoughts on “Fathers’ Stories

  1. i have another one then! at the science museum in london, there’s this really cool area for little kids called the pattern pod. you can only go in it if you’re a little kid, or you’re accompanying a little kid. mr lp now refuses to take lp-child to the science museum because the first and only time he did, lp-child wandered a few feet away from him in the pattern pod–he was having a rest on a bench–and immediately the museum staff rushed mr lp, surrounding him and informing him that he wasn’t permitted, that it was for children and their carers, that he needed to leave immediately. very much as if they assumed he was a child molester, with no hesitation about it. he pointed out lp-child, and they simply said ‘oh, that’s alright then’ and walked away. no apology or anything. and the thing is, i don’t think the science museum is different to any other place designed for little children; i think he’s just been lucky that people haven’t been so blatant in other settings. fabulous way to encourage dad to spend quality time with his child!

  2. ELP– I’m shocking myself with this sudden burst of charitable interpretation, but is it possible that the health visitors were worried about postnatal depression (or other possible maternal health issues) and wanting to make sure you were ok?

  3. jender, that’s what several people have suggested as an explanation. but all they do to check how you’re doing post-natally is to ask ‘and how are you in yourself?’ so, why wouldn’t they simply ask mr lp ‘and how is she in herself?’ i suspect you’d be *more* likely to get the truth from the partner if there was depression going on.

  4. the other thing i just remembered: they actually wrote in lp-child’s red book (standard health record book for children birth-5) “mum not present” every time mr lp took him in instead of me. so, they’re considering it a matter of note for *his* records that i didn’t bring him in. i really think the questions are because they consider “mum not present” to be an indicator that something’s wrong in the life of the child; that a baby who’s not with his mum 24/7 is in peril, even if when he’s not, he’s with dad.

  5. Yes, all that seems right. And (1) I’ll bet they don’t write “dad not present” when he’s not, or even ask where he is; (2) If it was just a matter of concern for you, they’d ask mr lp “how is mum?” rather than “where is mum?”.

  6. I think it is hard to overestimate the difficulty many people have in dealing with unfamiliar situations and different ways of doing things.

    While I’m don’t want to suggest that anyone encountering these problems is doing anything wrong, it might benefit lots of other people if one sits down with the health care people and explains to them how things are going to be deliberately different for one’s child. just maybe they’d come to see that daddy could be a resource when they’re dealing with a mum with post-partum depression, etc.

    Perhaps the idea could be spread by getting kinds of signs, shirt logos, etc that say things like “Shared parenting going on here” or “This daddy is a 50% solution. Share parenting with your partner too.” (I love the picture of going into a children’s museum with explanatory signs. “Just so you don’t worry that I’m here to abuse small children.”)

    ELP, I suppose they might worry that you might be hiding bruises. If so, daddy’s word is hardly to be trusted.


  7. It seems to me that *even if* the reason for wanting to see elp is legit, the way they’re going about it is terrible. The govt here is supposedly committed to gender equality– they should be thrilled and supportive about men being involved in childcare, and very careful not to discourage it. JJ– Love the “I’m not here to abuse your child” T-shirt idea.

  8. Jender, I agree about the way they are going about it. The govt’s commitment to gender equality – are they doing anything to facilitate the conceptual change for the people who actually put policies into practice?

    It can be very difficult to change people’s beliefs, still more their actions.

  9. It’d be nice if men actually saw past the trees on this sort of prejudice and applied feminist principles in their own positions of power.

  10. I’m confused. Normally you feminists go to great lengths to vilify and demonise men but you are actually standing up for us. What is the world coming to?

  11. Every now and then we get bored with the man-hating. No, seriously: the man-hating is a myth. As to this specific issue, I’ve never met a feminist who disagreed with me on it. However, I do think that there is less discussion of it than there should be.

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