The mediocre Dad who barely does half of it

There’s an interesting article in The Guardian today based on research conducted at Lancaster University into fathers spending less time on their careers and more with their families.

It might not surprise you to learn I think broadly this is a good thing. Although, a couple of the usual caveats were thrown in: mothers still doing the bulk of the housework; Dads only doing the fun stuff and not the cleaning or admin.

The tone of the article was interesting too – it was very consciously working around the idea of the career Mums ‘who did it/had it all’, referencing those same points: a little like those spoof articles that write about male rock and pop stars the way female artists are usually described. Switch the gender assumptions around and watch the ridiculous ideas loom up off the sea bed like shipwrecks.

I found myself corroding with envy of these part-time parents. I envied their confidence and the fact they had a career to balance – that is an area in which I’ve badly fallen down. And, most toxically, I envied them the parts of the week they spent childless.

Similar to the ‘school gate moan’ they mentioned (in slightly disappointing language), I thought to myself that it’s fine to be around for bath time or reading stories in bed or going to the park, it’s the mid-morning meltdowns or the feeling first thing that the day is yawning away in front of me when parenting feels the most intense for me. Very unfair, but it was how I felt.

I’m with J-Bone all day every day, seven days a week at the minute, as Dr L is enormously busy with her demanding job – with her occasionally giving him a bath, giving him breakfast or putting him to bed. And I run out so quickly of ideas of how to keep him entertained, especially any kind of activity that I might find remotely interesting. Just this morning, the boulder returned to my belly when I woke up, as it used to before a director visit or difficult meeting, at the question: What are we going to do today? The playground contains only so much divertment.

Keeping him entertained while maintaining some kind of semblance of order in the household, cooking meals (at my culinary snail’s pace), doing my own part-time proofreading work, etc., often feels impossible. I guiltily shuffle towards the remote control and let Bing, Mike the Knight, and Sarah and Duck take the strain while I put the washing out.

I smoulder with self-loathing when I think about all the arts and crafts activities that I should be doing with him, but which, when I attempt them, get me stressed about cleaning up afterwards.

If only I was more driven, worked more intelligently, I think, we could afford for him to go to a nursery and he’d be allowed all the messy play and interaction with buddies his heart desired.

As it is, I take care of J between 8 and 8 with an hour or so of nap in the middle and around 15 hours of laptop-based work molded around that. Sometimes, Bing will take over for a couple of hours in the afternoon, while I sneak (and it feels like sneaking) some work in while he’s still awake. All the time thinking ‘We should be feeding some ducks’.

I sincerely doubt many of the Superdads in the article don’t twinge with exactly the same concerns as I have. The Supermums too. My sister described parenting as being so interwoven with guilt that the feeling never leaves.

But the further the guilt is spread between fathers and mothers, I suppose, the easier the long days of parenting will become.

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