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.
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.
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.