Back in the mid-1990s I became a dad and, soon after, I ceased paid work to become a primary carer for my baby daughter, whilst my wife earned us a crust. My youngest daughter was born within 15 months of my eldest. During the same period, I was also studying for an Open University degree, so I was a very busy – and tired! – bee indeed. Although this was very much against the grain of the time, I have absolutely no regrets and, indeed, feel very proud and privileged to have played such a massive role in bringing up my daughters. Having said that, I don’t want a medal – I just did what any Loving parent should do.
Anyway, earlier today, I asked my eldest daughter (now aged 27) the following question: ‘What difference, if any, do you think being raised by your dad (as primary carer) made to you, good or bad?’ Here’s what she said in response:
‘Well, aside from the fact I wore a lot of backwards outfits∗, I would have to say it was probably all positive. I don’t think, if the [parental gender] roles were switched, things would have been much different. I remember people telling you what you were doing was weird and stuff, and I remember thinking that it was normal to me. I think that throwing tradition aside in the ’90s was a lot less acceptable than it is now, but to us it was what it was supposed to be like.
In all honesty, I don’t think there was a huge difference. I don’t think it matters whether a man or a woman is a primary carer. It’s no more admirable I guess, than if a woman does it (I hate that some people think that dads “babysit” because that is really bad for progress – even now I have people tell me how lucky I am that A does his share of parenting, though A doesn’t get told the same about me) but the early memories I have are all happy ones.
I remember it being a childhood full of play, mischief, adventure and laughter. I don’t think that was because of your gender though or the fact I called you dad, I think it’s because of the effort you put in as a parent. I think that it’s most important that the needs of the family as a whole unit are put above tradition and conjugal roles. That parents that want to work, can, and parents that want to be the primary carer, can! It shouldn’t be assumed it’s going to be a woman.
To be honest, I have no idea what difference it made, because that was all I knew until I started school. I can’t imagine it being another way.’
∗ I do confess that she has me bang to rights when it came to baby clothes and dress-sense!
Postscript: I have also just received a response from my youngest daughter (now aged 26) who says:
‘I think at the time it was unusual for men to be primary carers or to take your mum’s maiden name. I think I was quite conscious of it, as kids would question it out of curiosity – but nowadays, that has changed. I guess it made me more aware that it’s ok for dads to be primary carers – but this was against what we were taught at school, so brought up some insecurities and confusion on a low level.’