Did lockdown force fathers into extra parenting - or were dads already pulling their weight?

Did lockdown force fathers into extra parenting - or were dads already pulling their weight?
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‘How many Irish Mammies does it take to change a light bulb?'

‘None, shure I’m happy out here in the dark while ye go out and enjoy yourselves.’ 

Even Irish Mammies loves an Irish Mammy joke. The jokes are funny because she is in on it – Irish Mammy knows that we view her as a loving martyr, and she plays up to it.

There is such a thing as a Dad Joke. It’s a really dopey gag Dad likes to tell, high-lighting the fact he’s the kind of eejit you’d get if you crossed Homer Simpson with Dougal from Father Ted and then dropped him on his head. But Dad Joke is an American invention really, just like Father’s Day.

Irish Dad, aka The Old Man, doesn’t merit his own series of jokes.

But if you were to mould an average Old Man based on popular culture, you’d get an an emotionally stunted alcoholic who blubbers during the speeches at his daughter’s wedding, because he never spent much time with her. That’s about it.

Well he’s gone, if he ever existed. Most Dads I know stop after three beers. We like to rub our child’s hair and tell them we love them, at least once a day. And judging by the number of men with their kids in the playground on a Tuesday afternoon, The Old Man has moved into childcare.

So don’t bother giving him a pair of novelty socks or a nose trimmer this Father’s Day – just give your Old Man a bit of credit.

I think the Coronavirus lockdown showed how far we have come.

The first I heard about coronavirus was an article I read in early February about Chinese Dads in Wuhan, who were getting used to spending time around their kids during lockdown. The internet was ablaze with memes about fathers in China who were used to disappearing off to work all day, suddenly coming to terms with a small person following them around asking for treats.

They’re not exactly hands-on in Japan either apparently.

A New York Times article in May introduced us to Susumu Kataoka, a online marketing consultant in Tokyo who shares an apartment with his wife and two small kids. Susumu decided to take some photos of their apartment with a drone during his spare time.

His wife Aki focused on three words in that sentence – ‘his spare time.’ She didn’t have any. So she drew up a spreadsheet detailing the number of tasks they each did in the house.

The result was 210 to 21, in favour of Aki. (Or Susumu, depending on who you ask.) Susumu shared this spreadsheet on Twitter, presumably as some form of punishment. It was shared 21,000 times. It turns out Japanese men are a bit 1950s when it comes to housework, with one survey showing that men in working couples do 20% of the chores. (Susumu didn’t even make the average – what was he thinking drawing attention to himself with a drone?)

I think Irish Dads are doing a lot better than that. I’m not suggesting this is because Irish women are incredibly good at nagging, because I don’t want to get in trouble. But maybe someone should investigate that in the interests of science.

No one is suggesting we are doing 50% of the housework. A 2019 report found that women in Ireland do 19.7 hour a week, compared to 9.2 hours for men. But men in Ireland are doing a higher proportion than a lot of our counterparts across Europe.

Obviously we’re not doing as much as the Swedes, because no there’s competing with the Swedes in anything except maybe pandemic control.

But I think we’re getting there at a rate that isn’t quite captured by the figures, or those regular letters to relationship experts in newspapers from women who can’t get their husband to load the dishwasher. (Are those really real? I don’t know.)

My guess is coronavirus lockdown will see The Old Man do even more of the work around the house. I asked around a couple of Dads I know, to check the lie of the land. Two things surprised me. The first was they all enjoyed spending more time with their kids. The second is that Irish Dad is doing a lot of cooking these days.

First up was Shane Nott, whose daughter is in my daughter’s class. I chose Shane because he got a proper dose of the coronavirus.

This might be because a week after travelling to Bergamo on business, he went on a stag party to Madrid, back when neither of those places were known to be virus hotspots. (He mustn’t have had time to travel to Wuhan and complete the Covid-19 Triple Crown.) The good news is he’s fully recovered and back at behind the desk at his business, Teamwearworld.com, where you can get work uniforms along with sportswear for kids, all online.

But it was a bumpy ride. He had what he described as unmerciful headaches and spent weeks struggling to sleep, gasping for air in the bed. On top of that, he was locked into the house during that time with his wife and three kids under eight. I presumed he never wanted to see his kids again. Not true.

He never once complained about it, saying it was nice to get a bit of extra time to spend with them, cooking the dinners most nights of the week, as he always does.

It was the same with another guy I know who asked not to be named in case his wife made him do more homework for pretending to be a modern Dad. (Only messing Fiona, I know you’re not that kind of wife.) This guy has three kids under 10 - himself and Fiona shared the childcare since March, while both working themselves.

Did lockdown force fathers into extra parenting - or were dads already pulling their weight?

Two things struck me while talking to him – the first is he does all the cooking in the house. The second is how in touch he is with kids’ emotions and needs.

I think this is where The Old Man has changed the most in the past ten years. Parenting isn’t all about housework (although it’s a bigger part than they let on in the nappy ads, where they basically are trying to get us all to have loads of kids.) It’s also about being emotionally close to your kids, so you know and care about how they feel and what they need.

I know a guy whose kids are about ten years older than mine. He openly admits he had a traditional male breadwinner role and his wife did most of the child-rearing. This was still the case for a lot of guys I know who had kids during the early noughties.

I think the 2008 crash threw all that up in the air - things definitely feel different now. Ok, you still see more women than men with the kids in the playground; and as my wife likes to point out, our kids will run past me to go and ask her a question. (I have this cloak of invisibility guys, an absolute must if you are going to have kids.)

But Dads I know with kids under 10 are doing things with their children now that were usually left to Irish Mammy. It isn’t nappies or cooking, although these matter. We’re also doing our share of home-schooling during lockdown. We’re telling our kids we love them and a whole lot more; a guy I know even learned do plaits for his daughter’s hair. Some people might find that creepy, but that’s their problem.

Things have changed massively in the past 10 years - calling another man a cissy because he does something sweet for his kids is basically the mark of an asshole.

Men are allowed to show all our emotions. The wife of a friend of mine used to say he only had two emotions – hunger and tiredness. That’s changed. We’re all a bit more Connell out of Normal People these days. The result is that more and more of us are willing and able to share the parenting load, whether it’s emotional or just picking up bits of Lego off the ground.

We’re not there yet, because old habits die hard, and most people will do what they can get away with.

But I think the modern day Old Man deserves an attaboy. I’m not just talking about hipster Dads either. There aren’t many hipsters gathered at the school gates when I’m doing the pick up. Just guys from different backgrounds and nationalities, spending more and more time helping their kids grow up.

So look, give us the cheap socks if you want, for Father’s Day. The shops are probably after buying loads of them anyway and you’d hate to see them stuck. But give The Old Man a bit of credit as well.

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