The last time I returned to work from maternity leave my partner was working freelance. He looked after the children when they weren’t at nursery, then I took over at weekends. I didn’t find it easy. We’d moved to a new area and I didn’t know any other mums. Besides, there wasn’t time to meet them; I was at work all week. Still, at least once a month our local Sure Start centre was open on a Saturday. Only I wasn’t allowed to go.
Saturdads was a drop-in for fathers of pre-school children who were looking after the kids and needed a place to “connect”. You didn’t have to be a single dad; just someone who was working full-time and had a partner who spent more time with your kids than you did. I’m not belittling the difficulty because I know how it is; that’s been my life for the past four years. Only I’m not a man, not a Saturdad. I can’t join their club; I know because I even asked.
I mean, they’d have to change the name. Otherwise it’d be like that time when I was eight and got sent on a Round Table Lads ‘n’ Dads camping weekend. Back then even playing Top Trumps in a tent was, you felt, encroaching on sacred space. Anyhow, the group’s called Saturdads and I’m not allowed to attend. I wonder what they talk about. It’d be funny if they sat around moaning about how damaging it is to society to have meaningless stereotypes regarding who the “weekend carer” is.
Meanwhile, my partner’s been to all the weekday drop-ins going. He’s even been invited to breastfeeding support. He’s not just welcome; he’s considered something of a superhero. Whenever I’ve had a day off work and been able to go to a toddler group, all I get is “ooh, are you X’s mum? Isn’t their dad brilliant?” Yeah, he’s a total superstar. I mean, he is a great dad. But I’m not on my knees with gratitutde. Sorry, I’m just too tired and wouldn’t find the strength to get back up again. And besides, yes, dad-as-main-carer might be an anomaly, meaning individuals require additional support. But so, therefore, is mum-as-not-main-carer. So perhaps everyone could stop rubbing the latter’s nose in it? (Still, what do I know – maybe a week later they’re all telling him “isn’t your partner brilliant? Who’d have thought you could jump around in soft play with shoulder pads that big?”).
The existence of groups such as Saturdads makes me feel doubly isolated as a working mum. It’s not that I want to go to some group specially set up for me, to help evil cold career mummy bond with her neglected kids. I just want to get some time with the Sure Start toys! They have a cool home corner! I want to join in! And more importantly, I want someone’s kids to play with my kids, and for my kids to grow up thinking that shared experiences of parenthood aren’t divided along strict gender lines. I want them to see that the issues facing those of us who aren’t the main carer aren’t gender-specific. Otherwise Mummy is, the grand scheme of things, a bit of an oddity and, unlike the part-time daddies who are simply doing their best, she probably doesn’t love you as much as she should.
Anyhow, that’s all by the by. Do you know what really annoys me though? The bacon sandwiches. Saturdads get bacon sandwiches! Where did they come from? As anyone who’s attended a weekday toddler group will know, the most you can expect there is instant coffee and rubbish biscuits. But set up a dads-only group and suddenly bacon sandwiches appear from nowhere. How does that happen? Is there a special Sure Start budget for man food? And if so, could that be the reason why they’ve run out of money today? Give biscuits? To a man? Surely he’s emasculated enough by having the kids in tow. No, he needs MEAT! Sure Start budgets be damned!
I’ve been thinking about this all morning (on top of work, obvs) because I spotted an internet contest to win beer tokens for Father’s Day. You win them by saying how much the daddy in your kid’s life deserves it. I actually composed an entry myself:
My partner is a fantastic dad who makes our children feel loved and happy. He is also a bit down because he can’t get a job so we’d welcome tokens in any way, shape or form. He is teetotal, but don’t worry about that. I’d drink the beer. I am an ace mummy, and I only got rubbish flowers on Mother’s Day, so I think it’s only fair.
I haven’t submitted it, though. I think it sounds too sarky, and a bit mean. After all, it’s nice to offer a person beer, and nice to value men who are good fathers. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m just annoyed that no one was offering beer tokens a couple of months back.
Where was my Mother’s Day booze? I didn’t get any (not even one of those mini-bottles of rosé, which are allowed because they’re pink). The fact is, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, on top of being all-round marketing free-for-alls, are lessons in how sexism sells, lessons which are targeted directly at children. And boy (or girl), do they take it in. You might think it’s bad enough that once a year it’s decreed that you MUST like shit rock music. But think of what it’s doing to them.
Before my birthday my son (4) was insisting to my partner, who has been with me for 12 years, that “Mummy only likes pink things”. My partner suggested that this was not in fact the case and that Mummy liked lots of things, regardless of colour. But my son was having none of it. So I got pink things. They’re nice pink things, of course, especially the rosé which, finally, someone remembered. But still, I do like other things. And the one thing I don’t like is the closing down of my children’s minds to these possibilities in other human beings.
In order to counter all this, therefore, I have a suggestion. This Father’s Day, why not get your kids to give him flowers? Ideally pink ones. Let them show him they care, and also that mumsy pinkness isn’t some exclusive sphere leaving men out in the cold. This, surely, is the way forward. And, while they’re at it, perhaps your kids could bring you a bacon sandwich. And some beer. It’s only fair.