Dad Challenges in 2011

To celebrate Father’s Day this year we are posting up a series of posts from Dads (and some Mums) all based around the following question “What challenges do dads face in 2011”

This our first post, written by @reluctanthousedad will speak to many dads in their 30 or 40s. “I can’t be the man my father was, but I can be the dad he was” jumped out at me with some force. He writes so well, and his blog is one of those where the honesty spills out. It is a wonderful combination!

Like many men stuck at home raising children, the fear of turning into a right wuss is never far away…this post touches upon this difficult subject with care and insight…

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Father’s Day will coincide with the anniversary on which I lost my job, exactly
one year ago, and it’s had me pondering the nature of fatherhood.

There is no such thing as a Typical Dad. We learn from our own fathers, the
good, the bad, the ugly, then do the best we can when our own children come
along.

I have always had a hero-worship relationship with my father. He is a real man.
A working man. He led by example without any recourse to counsel or nurture. He
worked hard so that his kids could have what he didn’t have growing up in the
slums of Manchester.

Now, as his oldest son (me) gets closer to 50 than 40, my challenge is to be as
inspirational to my children as he was to me.

And that’s a challenge I have found difficult to get to grips with. Because the
goalposts have moved.

A father used to be the provider, the fixer, and in my father’s case, the
fighter. His dad, my grandfather, was a heavyweight boxing champion. When he
retired he became a bricklayer. My dad was an engineering fitter. A job so dirty
he would come home looking like an extra from the Black and White Minstrels.

I remember one time when I was a teenager, walking our pet dog Sam, when a group
of drunken young men confronted us.

‘Where’s your wallet?’ one asked. Another took a swipe at Sam with his boot.

If my dad had coat-tails, I would have hidden behind them. Instead, I watched in
awe as he looked each idiot in the eye, identified the ringleader, then knocked
his teeth out with a single punch. The other three went scattering as fast as
their leader’s nose when splattering.

I am far too fey and delicate to be that kind of dad. But I always believed I
could be the kind of dad he set the example for me to be: the working dad, the
providing dad.

And until June last year, that’s exactly what I was. I left home at 16, got the
equivalent of a degree in journalism, and at 19, secured my first job. I didn’t
have a day out of work, earned a handsome salary. I was the bee’s knees, the
dog’s bollocks, the Mr Woo, as my dad used to call me.

And then I lost my job, and with it, my identity and my perception of my role as
a father.

My wife and I swapped roles at the beginning of this year. She went out to work
in an office and I became a full-time Reluctant Housedad. I felt worthless,
useless, pointless.  My entire sense of self had been wrapped up in my ability
to work, to provide for my family. Now it had been decimated.

The impact of this was for me to question what it means to be a father. I could
wash, yes; I could iron, easily; I could cook, clean, pick the kids up from
school, no problem. But I couldn’t provide. And for me, providing was all that
mattered.

I became reclusive, distant, resentful, even.

Why am I telling you all this nostalgic self-indulgent twaddle? What has it got
to do with the challenges facing fathers in the year 2011?
Well, it’s this: in fatherhood – full-time fatherhood –  I found myself and my
purpose. My children ARE provided for; my children want for nothing. Their
mother makes sure of that via her job working 10 hours a day in an office that
has all the stresses and strains you might imagine go hand-in-hand with the
modern commercial workplace.
But what I give them is me: the values instilled in me by the example my father
set. I give them decency, morality, politeness, discipline, not by nagging, or
counselling, or contrived Let’s Have A Talk sitdowns, but by leading by example.

My nine year-old stepdaughter will know that Good Looking Bastards are exactly
that (because her stepfather is a minging soft touch!); my six year-old and
three-year-old sons will know the value of being generous and kind. They will
all understand the importance of respect in relationships and have an
understanding of the fact that no matter how much you try to strategise you
life, shit happens and you have to deal with it or curl up and die.

All fathers have challenges in the year ahead, and beyond. I can’t tell them
what those individual challenges are or how they should deal with them. Each to
their own. We’re all different.

But the challenge for this father is to give my kids what my father gave me. In
a world which has become increasingly rude, ill-mannered and me-me-me; in which
instant gratification has replaced patience and calm; in which results are more
important than endeavour, I can at least – as a housedad – be here for them to
show them what really matters in life.

I’ll never be the man my father was – an adversity to being punched in the face
has seen to that – but I can be the DAD he was, and is. I might get my hands
dirty in a different way but I get them dirty all the same (wiping my toddler
son’s bottom every day springs to mind – a task my father would never in a
million years have done).

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About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded www.onlydads.org in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
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10 Responses to Dad Challenges in 2011

  1. A superb and moving post. You sound like an aware and self-aware father which is what any child needs. A father who is present, not just present. Very poignant.

    • Thank you. I’ve thought about this a lot and the only difference between me and another father is that I don’t have to work because my wife does that (essential) thing. In society today, you can’t have one without the other, but if there is a (financial) choice and one parent is present then I hope (believe) that works out best for the child. Having said that, neither of my parents were present, full-time, because they both had to put bread on the table. Each family works out what’s best for themselves.

  2. I hope I’m allowed to be here since I’m a mum…I love this post. Reading it has reminded me that I need to let my husband do more Dad things for our girls. Because they are girls, because he works really long hours, because he’s overwhelmed…I just swoop in and do it all. But being able to be Dad, is important to him and the girls.

    Good on you for stepping up to the challenge.

    • What you’ve described here is so familiar. When my wife and I first swapped roles she’d come home from work and ‘take over’ – this, that or the other wasn’t done ‘right’. What she meant was: Not done to her specifications. We’d argue about whether the broccoli was cut right or the night-time routine was done in the correct order. What it boils down to is subjective: there’s no right way or wrong way. What I hate more than anything is people criticising other parents’ parenting style. The way my wife and I bring up our kids ain’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s ‘our’ way – the only way we have. What’s ‘perfect’ anyway?

  3. Philipa says:

    There is an unspoken assumption that this is a dad thing. That these feelings are gender specific. Women can feel “worthless, useless, pointless” too and if they have lost their job or thier ability to work can feel that “My entire sense of self had been wrapped up in my ability to work, to provide for my family. Now it had been decimated”. Women have such a lot of pressure put on them and men seem to get a ‘get out of jail free’ card or automatic sympathy – awww he changed a nappy, isn’t he just great? No surprise and praise for a mother changing a nappy because that’s what we’re expected to do, and hold down a job too most of the time. I remember being asked by some bloke about some domestic chore to do with babies before I had one, and I asked him why he thought I would know? Apparently because I have a vagina. Well here’s the thing: women have to be taught how to breastfeed, and change nappies, and iron and all the rest of it. That knowledge doesn’t grow with your breasts. Which means that men can learn just as easily and do the job, as Keith has demonstrated. Keith reports how boring it is and how isolating being an at-home-parent can be and I love his blog. But to all the dads reading this: women can feel just the same.

    • Spot on. That’s the thing I’ve learned more than anything along this ‘journey’. I had in my head that there were ‘male’ roles and ‘female’ roles, but there is only the ‘make the best job of what you’ve got’ role. Fact is, some people – whether male or female – are better at some things, be it earning an income or raising the kids or doing the housework – and others’ aren’t. A lot of childcare, for me, is about one’s own tolerance levels. For example, I’ve just told my sons off for throwing each other around their bedroom – not because they’re in danger, not because they’re being naughty, but because I can hear the three-year-old is about to have a crack-up and I just can’t be bothered dealing with the crack-up. Other parents might have a higher tolerance to the dreaded crack-up, but all I think is: ‘Crack up approaching = pain in the backside to deal with = nip it in the bud now so I don’t have to spend 20 minutes dealing with it.’ Another: My wife wants her daughter’s homework to be immaculate; I don’t really care one way or the other. But if it’s not immaculate, I’ll get a hard time from the missus, so I give my stepdaughter a hard time in the first place to mae sure I don’t get a hard time. Parenting: it’s all about self-preservation!

  4. @FayC says:

    A brilliant post which has hit the nail on the head. My husband looked after the kids and I went out to work, 17 years ago, when it wasn’t really the done thing! We believed it doesn’t matter who stayed at home as long as there was someone there for them.

    I agree with the line too, I want to be the Dad he was to me. Times change, parenting ‘priorities’ and the mechanics of how we do things will also change, but the passing on of strong values will always continue.

    Thank you for a thought provoking post!

  5. Thanks Fay. I aspire to leading by example, as my post says, whether I do that or not, I’m not entirely sure. I don’t think my dad consciously led by example. Perhaps what he did, as I’ve said to Phiippa, is parent according to his own levels of tolerance. Moral values vs tolerance levels. That’s really got me thinking. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  6. Sara says:

    I’m so glad you have learned that being a working father doesn’t always mean you are a true one. Raising children is a job that society has made second class yet it Is one if not the most important ones.

    My husband is a foster carer alongside myself yet all his friends just see it as a cushy alternative to real work. I would love them to live a day in his life.

    I’m sure your father is just as proud of you as you are of him.

  7. Andrew says:

    Hi, I enjoyed reading your post immensely, I was struck by the comparison to a favourite short stroy of mine and I’d like to share it with you.

    Nasrudin found a weary falcon sitting one day on his window-sill.
    He had never seen a bird of this kind before.
    “You poor thing,” he said, “how ever were you allowed to get into this state?”
    He clipped the falcon’s talons and cut its beak straight, and trimmed its feathers.
    “Now you look more like a bird,” said Nasrudin.
    I could be a million miles away, however, I do believe the metaphor mirrors your thoughts exactly.
    Thanks Andrew

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