The working dads revolution has already begun
James Millar from the excellent new site workingdads.co.uk on the radical changes occurring in society which are altering the way we think about gender and work.
They are two vital ingredients in the soup of masculinity – work and fatherhood.
And yet too often they don’t mix. The compromises between the two leave a bad taste in the mouth.
Many men define themselves by their work. It’s not just the Queen whose favoured small talk begins with ‘what do you do?’ We all do it. And there’s good reason for that. Traditionally the family unit has been split along gender lines and men’s role has been to earn the cash to keep the household afloat. Even now that many families have two incomes the man is the bigger earner in the vast majority of cases.
And most men will also become dads during their lifetime. But more and more of us are seeing that as our primary role – that’s a change. In a recent GQ survey two thirds of men said ‘being a present father’ is the most important part of being a man.
For my generation Father’s Day was basically just a recognition that we had fathers. The only way it was different to other Sunday mornings in my house was that one of the kids went to get the Sunday papers for him to spend the rest of the day reading instead of him having to go himself. For this generation Father’s Day is an opportunity to recognise all that dads do for their kids.
Men want to have it all. But, just like a couple of generations of women before them, they are finding that’s not always possible.
A big survey of millennial fathers carried out recently by accountants Deloitte found most men are hands-on dads, but that comes at a cost in the workplace in terms of stress, snark and ultimately results in dissatisfaction and a desire to change jobs.
And that’s where workingdads.co.uk comes in.
When I applied for the job of editor of the workingdads.co.uk website I was aware I was setting myself up for a fall. I literally wrote the book on this subject last year, it was going to be embarrassing if I didn’t get the gig. I did get it.
And now I want to use the site to make the case for changing the way we work and the way we as men think about work.
The very fact the site exists is evidence that something is afoot.
Gillian Nissim set up workingmums.co.uk 12 years ago. It was a classic mumpreneur story – she couldn’t find decent part-time or flexible jobs so she set up a website for it. Lots of women were in the same boat as her and it’s been a huge success. Because ‘working mums’ have been a thing for decades.
But only recently have we begun to talk about working dads.
More and more men were visiting the workingmums site looking for the same sort of flexible and part-time jobs. So Gillian snapped up the workingdads domain and spun out a separate site this year.
It’s important men have their own site for a number of reasons.
First, if men have to go to a site called workingmums to find a flexible or part-time job they are going to feel that such positions are for women, that they are odd for even thinking about tilting the work-life balance back towards life and away from work. In my book we called this ‘the babysitting handicap’. Most men who have been out on their own with their own children will have heard someone suggest they are babysitting, or worse – the dread phrase ‘daddy daycare’. The implication is that there’s something unusual or temporary about a dad doing childcare.
Secondly there’s a fundamental difference in the route men take to working flexibly or part-time. For many mothers not working full time is a necessity because they have childcare commitments and those demands invariably and unthinkingly tend to fall on women.
For men it’s a choice. As individuals it’s not our fault but the fact is men have more agency simply by dint of the contents of our pants.
Men often choose to reduce their hours and increase their engagement with their kids.
So the site reflects that. We’re making the case, persuading men to make that choice, showing how it can be done.
We know men are fed up with the current set up, for many of them the 9-5 isn’t working.
So at workingdads I want to help them to take the next step. To show that working part-time doesn’t make you less of a man, working flexibly is relatively easy given the technology at our disposal these days or going self-employed need not be a step in the dark.
I don’t just talk the talk, I do the editor job on a part-time basis working my hours entirely flexibly and I’ve noticed no downturn in my virility or ability to shout at the telly when the football’s on.
And we’re talking up firms that offer better paternity leave packages and make shared parental leave the norm – the sooner men are engaged in family life the more they want to remain an equal part of their kids lives.
It’s not a zero sum game. You don’t have to be one or the other. Men can be working dads and choose how much weight they give to each of those roles in the work-life balance.
Centuries of civilisation show men are usually pretty good at getting what they want. It’s in our hands to alter the definition of masculinity and rewrite the roles of work and fatherhood within that.
Like The Book of Man, the establishment of workingdads.co.uk is a sign that things are changing. If the former is a place to rethink masculinity the latter is a place to put those ideas into action. We’re here to help men combine the key roles in their life and become the working dads they want to be.
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