My father always played a very hands-on role in our lives as children (though, incidentally, at the moment he is quite literally hands-off, given that male Buddhist monks are not allowed to touch women or girls, so no Dad-hugs for me; but there were Dad-smiles and Dad-laughs a-plenty during his visit, which actually are just as good). Bathtime, teatime, storytime, he was fully involved in all of it- and during the last of those three, storytime, would deliberately slow his reading down to lull us to sleep. Saturdays with Dad smelled of wet hair, chlorine and poolside cafe chips (which we weren’t allowed, favouring as my parents did snacks of the apple-and-raisin variety). Later on, when Mum started working shifts at the weekends, he even instigated Saturday Fun Club for my sisters, which involved not only chips but also ice cream and picnics. As a teenager I pretended not to be jealous.
But this involvement was not anything remarkable to us, just a natural part of our childhood which came from a sense that my parents were a team. Now I’m glad to say that G is a “hands on Dad” and we too see ourselves very much as a team (I especially see us as a team at 6.30am when Mummy wants more sleep). At the moment, given that I have the maternity leave and the boobage, I am by default the primary carer. But I hope and feel confident that as Leila gets older, and I go back to work, we’ll work together to keep the homestead happy.
Hands-on dads are to be celebrated. The other day a friend and I were discussing the delights of the post-solid-food nappy- something I anticipate with mounting horror, especially as we’ve opted to use cloth nappies which need soaking and scraping and ugh, let’s not talk about it. My friend’s niece’s daddy has pronounced the napppies “savage”. Isn’t it nice, I found myself saying, that he’s so hands-on as to be intimate with the contents of his baby’s nappy. But then the fact that I felt compelled to praise him made me wonder: when was the last time you heard someone remark admiringly: “isn’t it great that she’s such a hands-on mother!”. I find myself melting a little at the sight of dads with their young children in the park after school ( as I parade around and around and around its perimeter, because it’s the only way Leila fancies napping at the moment). But the mums don’t melt me. People (I) admire a father for being involved; they (I) expect a mother to naturally be so.
That I, an unashamed feminist, harbour these indulgent double standards, speaks volumes of the attitudes of society at large. Because yes, a hands-on dad is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Thank goodness for my Dad and Leila’s dad, and my friend’s niece’s dad. But a hands-on mum is something to be celebrated too. Let’s be glad of both.