The Best Days of Their Lives

The everyday stories of family life, told with love and joy

Tag: father

Man friends

Probably for the first time since I went to an all-boys secondary school, most of my friends are men. I didn’t expect this when I first knew that I was going to become a stay-at-home Dad. Rather, I thought that I would be friends with more women, since there are more women than men looking after children day-to-day. But the world of caring for children in the day is a strange place and is drawn up, it seems to me, along gender lines.

Making friends with women is harder than I thought it would be. But I can’t say that I wasn’t warned. In his book Men Can Do It – the real reason Dads don’t do childcare and what men and women can do about it, Gideon Burrows describes the problems he faced as a father sharing parenting 50:50 with his wife. He described trying to go to parenting and baby groups and discovering that they were for mothers only and seeing signs that welcomed mothers and babies to cafes and by omission not fathers.

Most fancifully, I thought at the time, Gideon Burrows suggests that women didn’t want to meet up with him for playdates because they feared that he may want to have sex with them. How I laughed at this at the time. I would have laughed still if I had thought of it, until I joined a group on Meetup.com, which was suggesting playdates for parents (not specifically mothers) and their children in our local park. A couple of days later I received a message from the group administrator querying why I had joined the group as she saw that I am a man and she was concerned in case I was trying to hit on any of the mothers in the group. Suffice to say, I haven’t been invited to any playdates in that group and plenty of others state that they are WOMEN ONLY.

Another time a friend  put me in contact with a woman who had also moved from south-east London to Geneva around the same time as us and with a child of similar age to Mtoto. We arranged to meet at a park. I described myself in my last email as ‘a tall man’. The reply came back: I didn’t realise you were a man. We still met, but just the once.

There are other instances, I won’t bore you with all the stories. Ultimately, of course, the real loser in all of this is Mtoto, since he’s losing out on opportunities to play with other children, simply because he’s with me.

Thankfully there are other Dads around though. Most of the stay-at-home Dads I have met have been through the Geneva Dads’ Beer Night Facebook group and through other social networking sites, such as Glocals and one who I met in a ludotheque very early on. The group was set up a few years ago, apparently, when some mothers objected to having fathers in their Facebook group, so a couple of guys branched off on their own. Although I haven’t met up loads of times with these guys and their kids, I’ve got on well with every stay-at-home Dad that I’ve met and it’s good to know that they’re around. As a work comparison, we’re like freelancers working alone and it’s good to have those doing the same role to network with. Our latest get together was last night and there were 9 of us out and 5 of us were current stay-at-home Dads. It was a good craic and I laughed often and hard with the others. They’re good guys.

Which brings me onto today’s adventure. Today I met up with P, who is a father on paternity leave. Our contact was set up by my friend A, who after all this above is a mother on maternity leave who is a friend of mine. She’s a friend of some 13-years standing, so preceding either of us being in Geneva. So A set me up to meet P, though P has never met A, but P’s wife has. Got that? P’s son is just under a year old, so it was very much a case of the kids being near each other in the park rather than actively engaging, although we did have a lovely game of blowing raspberries at one point. P was very jolly and has been making the most of having 2 months paternity leave after his wife went back to work and before they get external childcare. After Mtoto had worn himself out making sandcastles in the sandpit and launching himself down the superfast tunnel slide, tumbling along the wibbly-wobbly bridge and the rope bridge, he went for his quiet time and P and I had time to walk and chat. P’s on maternity leave, so he’ll be going back to work soon, but he said that it had been a brilliant experience that he was very glad to have had the opportunity to do and he felt that he had insights from this period that he would take back to his work.

I didn’t take any recording devices out today, so I have no stats for Janathon. I’d imagine it was a 2-3km walk. I should have done a run today, but Mtoto didn’t want to go in the buggy this morning and my heart wasn’t in it, so I’ll be off tomorrow instead.

Conversation stoppers and starters

Last night, we were at a barbecue. It was a nice laid back affair with some good friends who are our neighbours. There were some people who we didn’t know and a few who we did.

The conversation was convivial and mostly fairly light. It was lovely to get to know some new people. I do wonder sometimes if people might not want to engage with us once they know that we’re moving away – after all they’re not likely to get to know us any better. Although it turns out that I can be wrong about that. I had two remarkable conversations last night.

The conversation stopper

A Quaker friend of mine warned me recently that being a full-time stay-at-home parent can be a conversation stopper. I experienced this for the first time at the barbecue.

Man: What do you do?

Me: I’m a homemaker.

Man: You build homes?

Me: No, I’m a stay-at-home Dad.

Man: Oh. [He is silent for a moment, then turns to someone else and asks them what they do.]

It was strangely satisfying though. I found myself thinking that if he couldn’t think of anything to say then perhaps we wouldn’t get on anyway and it was better to leave it there.

I also found that although I like the phrase “homemaker” it did roll off the tongue slightly awkwardly. I don’t know if that’s because I’m not used to saying it or because it is a bit odd. But I don’t like some of the alternatives like “house husband” and “stay-at-home-Dad” and everyone with kids is a full-time parent, no matter what other work they do.

But I don’t have a better alternative yet, so homemaker I am.

The conversation starter

There was a woman at the barbecue who hadn’t meant to be there. She was visiting another neighbour and before she knew it the children had hopped over the gardens to get some food. We didn’t know each other. But chatting to her, I learned that she lives around the corner from us and she and her family are in the process of moving to Geneva. And hers was the second local family I’ve heard about moving with us this weekend! It’s as if there’s a measurable migration between south-east London and south-west Switzerland.

Not only did we have lots to talk about Geneva (the woe of finding a suitable place) we got chatting about all sorts of other things too (our children, coincidences). And by the end of our conversation I don’t think either of us had found out what the other “does”. Which only went to show that it isn’t the be all and end all of conversations.

So tell me, what phrase would you use to describe my situation? Are there any other parenting conversation stoppers?

 

Ask me a stupid question

Is mummy at work today?

A noticeboard with the word 'tough' writ large, above a picture of a turd.

Tough? Not for me it isn’t.

We were in John Lewis in Oxford Street, London, yesterday. We went in about three times during the morning while I was deciding what to buy. Several times staff there addressed mtoto as well as me, which I thought was rather lovely.

I didn’t think anything more of it until I read Aaron Gouveia’s ‘8 Stupid Things You Should Stop Saying to Dads’ article in the Huffington Post, repeated from his lovely Daddy Files blog.

Then I recalled that one of the women we met in John Lewis had asked mtoto “Is mummy at work today?” Although not precisely one of the 8 things that give Aaron the hump as a father, it could have fallen into that category.

Except for one small difference. I love it when other people engage with my and mtoto when we’re out and about and nothing they say has been a turn off so far. It’s simply an opportunity to make small talk or open up a larger conversation.

Mamma’s at work

Mtoto agrees with me, I know. I know because he spent most of yesterday morning, both before and after the question was asked, repeating to anyone who would listen: “Mamma’s at work.”

It’s a particularly lovely stage mtoto is going through. He says something. He finds it to be so. He repeats it. A lot. Eventually something else crosses his mind, he formulates a sentence and uses it. He finds it to be so. And so we go on.

The woman from John Lewis seemed to be implying that mamma was having it tough while papa and mtoto were out enjoying themselves. And to a degree she was right anyway. Most often, I’d much rather be hanging out with mtoto than be in the office.

Fighting the same battle

But back to the 8 stupid things you should stop saying to dads. Most of the comments are things that people say who don’t know better, like “what do you do all day?” or “dad must be babysitting today, huh?” I appreciate that I might not be saying this in a few years time, but for now I’m happy to engage with anyone who starts a conversation, no matter how silly. After all, I’m one of the experts who says something just to open up a conversation, no matter how daft it is. All I have to do is rebut the question or statement and turn it around. And this is what Aaron is saying really too. He’s making the case for retiring phrases that don’t do anyone any good and he’s pointing out where there’s gender inequality from the less common way round.

I don’t have it tough

I’m a white middle class male. I don’t generally suffer discrimination because of who I am. It’s not so bad for me to have someone say something daft to me from time-to-time. It just reminds me how lucky I am not to usually suffer discrimination that puts me at a disadvantage.

And this is the rub of it really. Us fathers aren’t really suffering because of people’s attitudes, it just can be irritating for some of the people some of the time.

I don’t suffer because of my race. Or because of my gender. Or because of my sexuality. Or for any one or more of a plethora of ways that people make life horrible for others just because of who they are. And it reminds me that I want to continue to make the world into a better place for everyone, not just for fathers.