Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy told Parliament, last month, that she had to choose between being an MP or a mother now that she was pregnant. This shone a bright light on the low take up (1% last year) of shared parental leave. Fathers fear it will impact their career prospects, yet most dads want to play a part in raising their children. For the third in our blog series focused on support for dads, we invited Tony Sharp, Project Manager for Who Let the Dads Out?, to blog about fatherhood in today’s UK.
We recently ‘celebrated’ Father’s Day, an event that can generate mixed emotions. Some may have, or had a father who is/was feckless, absent, or abusive. Conversely, on the third Sunday in June, no small number of dads will have smiled at cards, and maybe even enjoyed breakfast in bed, courtesy of their partners and the children they care for.
Media holds a mirror to our society
Whatever your situation, our society is definitely shifting in terms of both the expectations it places on fathers, and the opportunities that are consequently created.
A decade or two ago, adverts that poked fun at the incompetent dad could be relied upon to sell products. There was a cinema box office hit that followed three men muddling through as they looked after a baby. Now, we’re conflicted as to whether an ad showing a dad capably caring for their young child, yet being offered reassurances by a voice-activated virtual assistant device, portrays a positive or negative image of fatherhood.
Fathers love and care
In her book, The Life of Dad, Dr Anna Machin highlights the changes that a man experiences as he becomes a father. She notes the boost in oxytocin levels and other hormonal changes that help fathers bond with their new-born children, and emphasises the important role of fathers alongside mothers.
The idea of fathers naturally falling in love with, but also being supported as they bond with and care for their children are important concepts in our work.
It’s an idea central to the Who Let The Dads Out? groups that meet, typically once a month, on a Saturday morning in villages, towns and cities across the UK. Here’s just one social media exchange from one of these local groups:
- Dad 1: She’s now sleeping 11 hours of a night-time – nappies can’t cope. We’ve tried brand X but they tend to leak. Has anyone else had this problem?
- Dad 2: Wow 11 hours! I swear by brand Y. Maybe one change halfway through the night. I’ve done a couple of changes and she goes straight back off.
- Dad 3: Brand X nappies for daytime, Brand Y for night.
- Dad 4: Definitely recommend Brand Y; we had the same issue.
I could go on, as the conversation certainly did. What is clear is that fathers, just like mothers, want to be involved in the lives of their children, and value the opportunity to discuss the daily issues of parenthood with their peers.
No simple answers
Of course parenting is hard, and not all relationships survive, for all kinds of reasons. Who Let The Dads Out? groups can also help single dads and separated families who are learning to navigate these new circumstances, as one father’s story testifies:
“In August my wife and I separated. She moved out with my son, a two hour drive away, making it impossible to take him to the places we used to visit together. After a number of outings I was aware that we hadn’t had enough “normal” time together, just playing trains and hanging out. I started to take him to a different Who Let The Dads Out? group each time I had a Saturday with him.
“Each group we’ve visited has given us a warm welcome. These groups have made a big difference to our time together.
I continue to fight for more time with my son and to be an active part of his life. Who Let The Dads Out? has given me the space to just stop and enjoy the times we have together.”
So a golden age or a time of crisis for fatherhood? The truth is probably somewhere in between and will be different for each dad and family. We need to keep looking for and work towards those moments of pure gold, even in times of crisis, by supporting fathers to be the best that they can be.
Who Let The Dads Out? is a movement that inspires and resources churches to support fathers, father figures and their children. The initiative is just one of the ways Care for the Family seeks to offer support to families in both the good times and when family life is more challenging. You can find out more about this national charity and its work to strengthen families through Christian compassion at www.careforthefamily.org.uk
 X and Y used in place of actual brand names.