From soft play purgatory to the ‘W’ word, The Out of Depth Dad salutes the job of every stay-at-home dad.
It started with a sixth sense. I could feel she was there – just in my blind spot, hovering. I turned to discover a lady, of indeterminate age (somewhere between 70 and deceased) watching me, evidently with growing displeasure. Not knowing what to say, I smiled. She didn’t reciprocate, instead she chose to tut. I took this as my cue to vacate the supermarket aisle – so began to push the pram away. This, it would seem, was the wrong thing to do. The lady grabbed my arm.
“He won’t like that,” she said, snatching a pouch of organic baby food from my basket.
“Excuse me?” I replied, shocked and confused at the presumption that seemed the catalyst for this encounter. “Could I have that back, please?” I said, holding my hand in her direction. She tutted and shook her head.
After briefly considering trying to wrestle the pouch from the woman, I dismissed the idea. One of the issues of being a large man is, if discovered fighting with a Miss Marple look-a-like in the Co-op, few people are likely to believe that you didn’t start it. So I took another pouch from the shelf and began to walk away. She muttered something as I left. I ignored her (and the stares of the other customers) deciding instead to take refuge in the cheese aisle.
Since sharing this incident, on my blog Outofdepthdad.com around a year ago, I’ve received some very interesting responses. I’ve been accused of lying – that I made up the story. I didn’t, it’s all true. I’ve been told I’m attention seeking – I’m not. I’ve been told that I’m weak – for not physically battling with the lady. Weird. I’ve been told it’s my fault for being in a domestic situation only suitable for women. If nothing else, this incident (and the reaction to it from readers) shows me that stay-at-home dads (SAHD) really aren’t understood. Fathers who are stay-at-home parents are, in my experience, some of the most interesting, insightful and culturally maligned people I’ve ever met. It’s not an easy job.
Here are five things every SAHD knows…
Pensioners don’t get it
I know, I know, it’s a generational thing. Women used to stay at home and men used to bring back cured pork products. Yet, every day (and I do mean EVERY DAY) I find myself in a conversation with a pensioner whose gast is well and truly flabbered by my SAHD situation. “Giving his mum a little break eh?” they’ll cheerfully ask – as if it was any of their business. “Er, no,” I reply. “I look after him while his mum’s working.” “So she works and you don’t?” I smile, trying to seem polite. “No, I work part-time and I also look after my son.” This is usually followed by lots of sighing and muttering about the country going to the dogs.
NB: Some pensioners may not struggle with the SAHD concept. I’m yet to meet one.
Soft play is hell
This, I know, is a widely held belief among parents. Yet, for the SAHD, who finds himself in the lion’s den on a daily basis, it’s a uniquely frustrating experience. You see soft play, like it or not, is a mothers’ domain and any man entering it, especially on a weekday, is viewed with utmost suspicion. What’s he doing here? Why isn’t he at work? I recently had an incident where an older child repeatedly threw balls at my son’s head. I politely remonstrated with the kid, asking them to stop. Suddenly the child’s (previous unseen) mother stormed in and retrieved her child saying: “Come with me away from the nasty man.” It’s a frustratingly common experience, but one that’s not likely to change any time soon.
The ‘W’ Word
“Career on the skids was it?” Someone said to me recently at a party. Genuinely. They actually said that. The idea was I would only be looking after my own child because I was rubbish at my ‘proper’ job. Time and again I’ve met with the presumption only those who can’t cope with the world of work would become SAHDs – as if it was the ‘easy’ option. I used to have a challenging career in TV, during which time I never experienced anything close to the exhausting nature of looking after a small child. There are days when going to an office would seem like a holiday.
You’re not a mother
Obvious I know. What I mean is as a SAHD you can’t just plug into the long established network of mother and baby socialising that stay-at-home mothers often rely on. With SAHDs still something of a rarity, finding a group of men in a similar situation is a difficult thing to achieve in most parts of the country. In my experience, any SAHD expecting to be invited to join in with a mums’ event may find themselves waiting a very long time.
Kids’ TV is more addictive than (fill in your addiction)
People make grand speeches, during pregnancy, about how their child’s mind isn’t going to be sullied by watching TV. It’s a noble idea, but not really realistic. I’m a little bit addicted to Postman Pat. There’s something about the show that keeps me glued. Perhaps it’s the spiralling costs of each delivery as helicopters are chartered to move pencil cases across ridiculously short distances as a result of Pat’s ineptitude. Or perhaps it’s the hokey charm of the improbable idea that a rural Post Office might still exist in a village like Greendale? Whatever it is, my son ‘loves’ Postman Pat – which essentially means I wanted to watch it and he’s gotten used to the idea. Our mini-breaks in Greendale are one of the highlights of this SAHD’s day. Be careful though, it’s easy to binge view on Pat Clifton’s antics!
Stay at home dads, I salute you! Keep up the good work and keep on counting to 10 every time someone asks you one of those stupid and often offensive questions.
Chris McGuire’s blog Outofdepthdad.com tells of the ups and down of life as a SAHD in a world not ready men in a primary parenting role. Follow him on Twitter @Outofdepth_dad.