Are fathers frozen out of the parenting scene?

John Adams say modern fathers are doing well and are in a much better place than the last generation but there’s still a lot of work to be done, find out more –

A couple of years ago a builder called George was working on our house. He was an older guy, somewhere near retirement age.

I got chatting to George one day and explained that I was the primary carer for our daughter (we only had the one at the time). In response I was expecting disapproving comments and tutting but I couldn’t have been more wrong. He said my situation was great and explained that he “hadn’t seen anything” of his own children while they were growing up because he was always working.

A chat with my mother in law confirms men of this era were pretty much frozen out of the parenting scene. I think the most telling story she told me was of her husband struggling to get a couple of hours off work so he could collect her from hospital following one of her births. It’s very hard to imagine an employer being so inflexible and obstructive with a new father in this day and age.

I feel lucky to have been born in the generation I have been. I’ve always been paternal and probably would have been a hands-on dad anyway. I’m just blessed that society has moved on and is much more open minded and encouraging of father like me that in days of old.

That said, there is still a long way to go. One of the reasons I started blogging was to highlight the sexism us fathers face. It’s rarely malicious and often the result of absent mindedness, but it does exist.

Just a couple of weeks ago I took our new born daughter out for the afternoon. I was sat in a café and a woman came over, paid a couple of compliments about the baby and then told me I was “babysitting” because my wife wasn’t with me. Later that same afternoon I called in to the registrar’s office to register her birth. A registrar looked in the push chair, looked at me and said; “you’re a brave dad for bringing baby out on your own.”

In a bizarre way, I guess both were meant as compliments. It felt, however, like the parenting equivalent of the wolf whistle.

father kissing son

I’d also encourage you to look at the branding for baby products. Is it right for baby skin creams, baby shampoos and baby bubble bath to be labelled “mum and me” as one major manufacture does? I’ll do them a favour of not naming the manufacturer, but I struggle to see why you would slap the word “mum” on gender neutral baby products.
It may seem like a very small point, but I doubt a twenty first century woman would buy washing up liquid if it had “for mums” slapped across the packaging. I should add, by the way, there are myriad examples of poor, sexist product branding. That’s just one of many I could mention.

Although us fathers face these barriers, the awkward truth is that we could and should do more to address them. I hear many stories of men having bad experiences with midwives, health visitors, sonographers and other health professionals. I have never, however, heard of a father complaining about their poor treatment. I have to put my hands up and say I’ve been treated very rudely by sonographers in the past and done nothing about it so I’m as guilty as the next guy.

Not that long ago my wife and I were doing the rounds of local schools to see which one we’d like our eldest child to attend. Some fathers attended the open days but not as many as I would have expected. I appreciate that it can be difficult to get time off work and crises happen that stop you attending such events, but it was noticeable that some men had apparently outsourced important decisions about their children’s education to their wives and partners.

I don’t wish to end this piece on a sour note. It’s not all bad. To give just two examples I’m increasingly aware of ‘Saturdads’ groups and it seems increasingly common for men to amend their work patterns to suit family life.
I also know the response to my blogging activities from mothers shows that a lot of women want their menfolk to be enthusiastic and involved parents. I suspect it’ll take a generation or two, but I hope the fathers of the future will be as hands on the mothers of today.

— John Adams

John Adams portraitJohn Adams is a married father of two young daughters. He writes about parenting from the dad’s perspective on Dadbloguk John, who is the primary carer for his children, writes about all aspects of parenting and isn’t afraid to be controversial. He has a particular passion for highlighting the sexism and gender barriers he comes across as a man that looks after the children. John works in media and public relations and was previously a journalist.

John is also on twitter @dadbloguk and LinkedIn

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  1. 21 December 2012 / 07:34

    Interesting and thought provoking post. I’m a working dad but luckily for a company that embraces flexible working. We did the school hunting a couple of years ago and I was amazed at the first one when I turned out to be the only dad there! However, when another school did an open evening there were lots of dads. I wish more companies were like mine and that dads consider taking a day’s leave for school visits.

    • 21 December 2012 / 18:36

      Thanks for commenting. Interesting comments you make about the school visit thing and glad to hear you have a flexible employer.

      In a different blog post I wrote about the complete lack of men that sit on the school PTA…compared to the healthy number that are school governors. I’ll leave you with that thought!

  2. 21 December 2012 / 10:48

    Great article, and exactly the subject of my new book out in the Spring:

    Men Can Do It: Why dads don’t do childcare, and what men and women should do about it.

    Take a look at:

    I think there’s something Daddy in the air just now. Lets keep the momentum going!

    Gideon Burrows

    • 21 December 2012 / 18:36

      Indeed, I am aware of the book and await it with interest!

  3. 21 December 2012 / 12:23

    Interesting reading. Many people don’t seem to realise that some dads might actually want to look after their kids. When our first child was born my husband changed his work pattern to care for her one day a week. People thought he was a hero but he was just glad to have the opportunity to be such a big part of his childs life. I can’t imagine anyone thinking a mum was amazing for spending one day a week alone with there kids!

    • 21 December 2012 / 18:40

      Thanks for commenting. I think you’re absolutely right – there is an assumption that men just don’t want to get involved with the practical side of parenting when many in fact do…and many more would if the gender barriers were removed.

  4. 21 December 2012 / 13:50

    Interesting read. I don’t think I’ve ever felt “frozen out” as such, but there have been occasions where I’ve felt the odd one out, being the only father looking after the kids in a room full of mums, and that can be uncomfortable.

    Still, as you say, things are a lot better now than they were a generation or two ago, and hopefully they can only keep getting better.

  5. 21 December 2012 / 18:42

    Yup, I’ve had that awkward moment when I’ve been the only man in a room full of women. It used to bother me but it doesn’t any more.

    Thanks for commenting.