How it feels: I’m a dad, not a visitor

The world’s attitude to dads is outdated. Many fathers want to take a hands-on role in raising their babies, and research shows this is beneficial to both father and baby (and, indeed, mother). But we live in a society where fathers are sidelined and considered the ‘clueless’ half of the parenting partnership. From being forced to leave their newborns and partners in hospital when visiting hours are over, to being referred to as ‘Daddy Day Care’ or ‘babysitters’ when looking after their children, on their own; welcome to 21st Century fatherhood. We have seen these outdated attitudes from the mother side but more importantly, in our latest guest post, we hear from the father side.

Over to Alex…

“Visitors”. It’s a short, simple word, but as I stared at the sign on which it was printed – directing me to the maddeningly apostrophe-free “visitors toilet” – those three little syllables spoke volumes to me about my place in the world. I was merely a temporary presence, a spectator, just passing through. I didn’t belong.

“I was probably over-thinking things. My wife had just had our second baby, a furious little girl, and by that point I’d been awake for about 36 hours. I could barely see straight, never mind put together coherent arguments.

“But I was still peeved by the fact that our local hospital’s post-natal ward (and the pre-natal ward, and the labour ward downstairs) didn’t have a single toilet that new or soon-to-be-new dads could use. If you needed to go, you had to leave the ward, walk down a corridor, queue up for the one, sad, lonely “visitors (sic) toilet” and then hope someone was around to buzz you back into the ward again afterwards.

“It all contributed to a general feeling that dads weren’t really that welcome. That we got in the way. Shortly after we arrived on the ward I was handed a card that set out visiting hours, clearly stating that I welcome to “visit” my wife and child until 9pm but absolutely no later.

“Two years earlier we’d had our first child at the same hospital in what proved to be an extremely difficult and traumatic labour. Just hours after the little chap finally arrived, a string of increasingly grumpy midwives demanded that I leave for the night as visiting hours were over. The fact that my wife was physically and mentally exhausted, in pain, nauseous, scared, upset, unable to move or pick up her baby and in desperate need of some love and attention was neither here nor there. As far as they were concerned I wasn’t her husband, the father of her child, the person who knew her best in the world. I was just a visitor who had outstayed his welcome. And that meant I had no reason to be there.

“Such experiences were merely introduction to the way many people – including those who really should know better – continue to view the role of fathers. It’s 2017. I know I’m probably still in the minority, but I’d like to think I’m not a total freak for wanting to play an engaged, active and – gasp – equal role in raising my children. But time and again I keep coming up against little niggles that, together, form a thoroughly depressing picture of a society that says “no”.

“There’s the patronising health visitor who, having bombarded my wife with questions about our daughter’s weight, poops, feeding habits, sleep patterns and so on, cheerily said “Here’s one even Dad can answer – what’s the baby’s name?”

“There’s our little boy’s key worker at nursery who, having noticed that our toddler was wearing odd socks, announced to the room that “It looks like daddy dressed him today!”

“There’s the friends and relatives who say I’m “babysitting” when my wife goes for a night out.“And there’s the advice and information for new parents. The vast, vast majority of books for prospective dads are of the “WAHEY! You’ll have less time for BEER and FOOTBALL now that you’ve got kids!” variety. Patronising crap that assumes you’re an idiot with a tiny attention span and a collection of FHMs gathering dust under your bed.

“Our first child was formula-fed, and I found that spending hours feeding him really helped us to bond. With number two being exclusively breast-fed, I searched online for tips on how dads could replicate this bonding experience… and found a million and one sites offering advice on how dads can support breastfeeding mums.

“And, with the honourable exception of Tales From The Mother Side [editors’ note: see That bond between fathers and babies and To the partner of a new breastfeeding mama], most were also cut from the “WAHEY! BEER and FOOTBALL” cloth: “You might even want to cook your wife some meals – but that might actually make things worse as you’re a MAN so you can’t cook! LoL!” I paraphrase, but you get the point.

“In adverts, TV programmes and films, the dad-as-involved-parent figure is repeatedly treated as comic relief. Look at the god-awful Hollywood adaptation of What To Expect When You’re Expecting, where an entire subplot is devoted to the HILARIOUS concept of MEN taking care of BABIES. Look, here they come, pushing pushchairs, carrying bottles, wearing slings! And – ha ha ha – they’re so rubbish at it that they keep hurting one of them! How we laughed*.

“Of course, all this pales into insignificance compared to the institutionalised discrimination faced by mothers, both in society and, particularly, in the workplace. But I don’t believe that wanting to see major improvements in our attitude to mothers precludes also wanting to see the little things improved for dads. In fact the two are actually linked.

“We can have all the best intentions in the world. We can have discrimination laws, shared parental leave, everything else. But until society stops treating dads as the joke parent and starts seeing them as an equal half of the parenting equation, the burden of responsibility is inevitably going to fall disproportionately on mums. As long as men are dismissed as part-timers, lightweights, not serious, women will be expected to pick up the slack. We can’t fix one problem without fixing both.

“Maybe I am in a minority. Maybe I am, even in 2017, one of the unusual ones. I don’t know.“What I do know is that when I look at my kids I see two, tiny, amazing people who I am equally responsible for. I’m doing everything I can to be involved in every stage of their development, nurturing them, shaping them, helping them to be everything they can be.“I’m not just a visitor in their lives. And I’m sick of being treated like one.

“*Disclaimer: we did not laugh.”

Guest writer Alex for The Mother Side xx

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