Not bad – for a man

I’ve been looking after my youngest boy for about 16 months now and while we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs, I wouldn’t have traded this time for the world. There are, however, odd moments where I am still pulled up short by the reaction of some people to seeing a man coping with looking after a toddler.

Not as brave as my boy! (source: blog.al.com)

Not as brave as my boy! (source: blog.al.com)

At this time of the year in the UK, every child 3 years or younger has the chance of a free flu vaccination (along with the elderly, people with certain medical conditions and key worker groups.) This year, rather than delivering the inoculation via an injection, it has been changed to being ingested nasally.  Today was the day of my son’s appointment, so I spent most of the morning explaining to him what would happen so that he wouldn’t be scared. The conversation went along the lines of “you’ll see a nurse, they’ll give you medicine up your nose and it will tickle. Isn’t that funny?” When it was our turn to be seen we followed the nurse into her office. My son was happy, because his nose was going to be tickled. The first question I was asked was “I take it you’re the father?” “No,” I replied. “I just found the poor child wandering the streets, a blank look on his face indicating loss, loneliness or some other trauma. As he looked a little on the pasty side I thought he needed a flu inoculation, so that’s why I’m here.” I didn’t say that, of course, but I was immediately annoyed. Do mothers ever get asked that question?

I explained to the nurse that I’d told my son what would happen and as the medication was squirted up his nose he didn’t flinch. Not once. I was so proud of him. The nurse turned to me and said “Well done. You obviously prepared him really well.” On the face of it, this was a compliment. However, the way she said the phrase meant that she left three words hanging unsaid: “for a man.” Now, if I was a 17 year-old kid still struggling to come to terms with the fallout from a one-night stand and who had no clue about life but was being placed in a position – of his own doing – of having to look after a child, that comment may have been appropriate. But I’m not. I am a 42 year-old father of two who chose to look after his youngest and has managed quite well despite the odd raised eyebrow and sexist remark from a very small proportion of the female population.

And it is sexism. Just read the above again and swap my role for that of a mother and the nurse for a male doctor and see how it reads. It doesn’t look too good, does it? And before anyone jumps in and says that you are being overly sensitive, just stop and think for a moment. “You’re being overly sensitive, love” was the stock defence that many women have faced for years (along with keep your knickers on, it’s only a joke) by the casual sexist. I was there. I know how it was meant.

So true (source: tarusjames.com)

So true (source: tarusjames.com)

I’m not for a minute equating my position to the tawdry way women have been, and still are, treated by some members of my gender, but given how long and hard women have had to fight for equality (and they are still waiting) I’m still surprised by the reaction I get from some  (usually strangers and often professionals) to the fact that my kids aren’t running around in filthy clothes, half-starved, swearing and smoking whilst knocking back the whisky because they are raised by a man. Except for breast-feeding, there is not a single thing that makes child raising the sole preserve of women, in the same way as there is not a single thing that makes the military, mining, engineering or any of the other traditionally male-dominated roles the sole preserve of men.

Here endeth the rant.

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22 thoughts on “Not bad – for a man

  1. Splendid work, but I think you’re missing a ‘been’. Otherwise in that last paragraph it reads a bit like “I’m not for a minute equating my position to the tawdry way women have”, which is a whole different conversation… 🙂

    • Oops! Nothing like undermining your whole argument as a piece of casual sexism due to a missing word! Now changed. Hopefully that’s the only typo but with my track record….

  2. Good point, well made, Dylan. Women have been driving the message home about ‘casual’ sexism for decades – but it’s a two-way street. Loving your writing, by the way.

    • Thanks, Jools. I need to be careful not to over-inflate things. The fact that it happens so rarely is probably what pulled me up in the first place, and it is a very different proposition to the everyday sexism that grinds you down which some women face.

      • If it feels like sexism, then that’s probably what it is. But that doesn’t mean you have to respond, or even feel indignant. You’re operating outside long-established stereotypes. You’re an ‘early adopter’ and she is late to the party. As for over-inflating things – why, that’s surely ‘poetic licence’ in the interests of entertaining your readers, isn’t it? Your privilege as writer, our delight to enjoy. Journalists do it all the time!

  3. “I take it you’re the father,” was chilling for starters. How many men with a small child (not the same child for all of them, obviously) must now get are-you-a-paedophile glances? Short of dressing the child in similar clothes to one’s own to suggest they’re a blood relative, how can one get round suspicious minds? It’s often worse than the condescension you describe.

  4. I think the nurse was out of order using phrases like that – as a professional she ought to know better – perhaps you could interpret her patronising tone thus:
    a) her own husband/partner is of the useless variety and that is her only (narrow) experience of males, or
    b) she’s a control freak and has never let her husband/partner share equally the highs and lows of child-rearing.
    Just a thought…

  5. Dylan, I have to say that I do find it very tiresome hearing so much these days about men being so useless, clueless and inept. In an effort to find ‘equality’ for women, I believe that men have been marginalised and it makes me so angry. That nurse just about sums this attitude up. We are not equal, or better, or weaker, we are different and we compliment and help one another in this thing called life. Men and women in general I mean! Well, that’s what I believe anyway, for what it’s worth!

    I take my hat off to you and how wonderful that you have been able to spend this precious time with your young children. There are many wonderful family men who should be praised and you are one of them.

    • Thanks, Sherri, although I’m only a part-time full-time father, so there are many other fathers that deserve the praise more than I do.
      I think on the balance of things men do get an easier ride than women in a lot of areas and like you, while I don’t believe people are equal, I do believe all people should be treated equally.

      • Yes, it is still a man’s world in many ways but I still don’t like all this man-bashing just for the sake of it anymore than I like inequality for women 😉

        It certainly would be great if we could all be treated equally, I agree 🙂

  6. Dylan , hate to say it (especially as I love siding with your much better half) but your “scribblings” are fantastic and I can see massive parallels with the way I’ve endured change and the addition of fluffy things in my life. Keep up the good work.

    • Thank you. If you are the person who I believe you to be (do you have the sharpest elbows on a football pitch by any chance) then I know how much that hurt to write!
      For some reason everybody seems to side with my much better half, but that’s usually because they are good judges of character.

  7. I agree–you dads can definitely get stereotyped. It doesn’t help that TV shows perpetuate the fumbling father routine. My husband is nothing of the sort and never has been. He might do things differently from me, but that doesn’t make it wrong. I also don’t like it when people say, “Oh, his father is babysitting.” Babysitting? I’m quite sure you don’t consider it this. So good for you for raising the topic. Fathers are so important for kids, and now that I have two teenage sons, I see that more than ever. Here’s to all you great dads out there. We mothers are grateful!

    • Thanks Carrie. I am happy to accept your gratitude on behalf of all fathers! I just feel that nowadays there is no excuse. I live in a small village in the heart of the English countryside, yet just in my son’s class there are 3 of us fathers that provide the majority of child are for our children. It isn’t an exception any more, yet for some people it still comes as a surprise.

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  9. My hubby stayed home with our daughter for a year after she was born and I returned to work. In Canada, we have fantastic parental benefits that recognize a man’s right to stay at home and raise children! Good for you, Dylan, good for you. 🙂 Sadly, I think he also had to withstand a few of those sexist “for a man” backward compliments. Sounds like you do a great job….for a parent! 🙂

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