(With apologies to my dad, who was a product of his time and didn’t mean it.)
It’s been an interesting few weeks, what with Marissa Mayer’s appointment as the new CEO of Yahoo! followed swiftly by her announcement that she’s pregnant and plans to take hardly any or no maternity leave, and Thora Arnorsdottir challenging (and losing) the Icelandic presidency with a four-week-old child.
I don’t want to go too much into what I think about this trend not to take longer maternity leave, because I don’t want to get into attacking other women’s choices without some research to back me up. The question is whether the role of the father of the child changes significantly to become a primary caretaker when the mother in question has such a high level of responsibility in the workplace.
I don’t know what Mayer’s plans are; I don’t know whether she does yet. I know from the BBC article that Arnorsdottir’s partner was all set to ditch his job and put in the hard yards at home. As a friend pointed out, it’s this that’s key: if women’s roles are to change, men’s roles must too.
Listening to Doug playing with our daughter is awesome, not only because he is, in general, awesome, but because he’s the kind of father I wish I’d had, in a whole lot of ways.
The base line here is enormously different: I’m the primary earner, so even though he’s a tinkerer/inventor like my dad was, Doug is also the primary cook, the dishwasher, the sweeper.
In our main caring roles, though, there’s more stereotypical interaction. I’m a cuddle-factory and Doug is the rough-house machine. The most recent joy is a large square of drill cotton that he wraps her up in and then swings her around wildly from side to side, calling out, “Does anyone want a child?” She has pulled that out about five times today, lain down in the middle of it and demanded to be rocked. She instructs him, each time, not to forget to say, “Who wants a child?”
Doug does cuddle, though, where my dad didn’t at all. I remember my dad playing around with eating things we thought were disgusting and saying, “yum yum, pig’s bum”. I remember my dad telling terrible, terrible puns. They were worse than most dad jokes. My dad was absent a lot. At his factory, running his cafés, even overseas sometimes. Even when he was there, he was walking ten paces ahead of us, not really coping with three small children.
Doug is so different from that, at least so far. He did his fair share of babywearing and our girl is still on his shoulders half the time. He reads her stories. He does bedtime routine every other night and double when I have to work back late or have a function. He’s in there right now, helping her to sleep, even though he got up this morning at 4.50am because she was too excited to sleep through with her best friend having a sleepover. (And for those who want to know why I’m not doing it: I did it the last two nights and I offered, but he said he’d do it.)
He’s also a supreme geek. My favourite bit of tonight was while he was helping her to get her pyjamas on. I was there too, and he started with our latest game to get her to do things for herself: give her a time limit to beat. This time it was a count of 20 (most things can be done in a count of 20 at age 3; I was surprised). He’s clearly bored with counting to 20 though, so he decided to spice it up. “Okay! Can you put your pyjama bottoms on by the time I get to 20? 1! 2! 3! 4! 5! 6! 7! Prime number! 8! 9! 10! 11! Prime number! 12! 13! Prime! Number! 14! 15! 16! 17! PRIME NUMBER! 18! 19! Prime number!! and … 20!”
By then, I was in hysterics and Ms 3 was looking at both of us quite strangely. Her pyjama top was put on to the sound of both parents shouting numbers, factors and PRIME NUMBER! at the tops of our voices and giggling.
I’m not president of a country or CEO of a multinational, but I am about to be owner of my own small business. My challenge is not to turn into my dad: absent, a little disconnected, frazzled by the home space rather than excited by it. My partner’s challenge is to keep doing what he’s doing and not let the years nor society’s expectations get to him, especially as he might find it hard as a man getting back into the workforce after a parenting break.
I really hope my daughter looks back on all this with fondness. I know I wish I had a dad as cool as she does.