By the time I decided to become a father, I knew the kind of dad I wanted to be. One who was present. One who there to see my daughter grow. A dad who changed diapers, took her to playgroups, did school runs, helped out in class, and was generally immersed in family life. I was lucky enough to live this as a stay-at-home dad for five years, before returning to work.
I don’t know where this idea of being this kind of dad came from. It certainly wasn’t from my own father, who was far from being present, and certain wasn’t one of my role models. I still maintain that seeing the movie Mr. Mom at a young age made a big impression on me, as it highlighted the changing roles for both men and women in the realm of work and home (admiring anything about this film is an unpopular opinion among fellow dad bloggers, so beg pardon).
But there were other key influences that shaped my attitude to work and family.
At the start of my career, the senior men in the office seemed to be from the mold of my father’s generation: Looking after kids was something their stay-at-home wives took care of. The only parents I saw working part-time or flexible hours were women — but seeing them undertake this way of working never left me.
Flexible working hours were brushed aside for now. My first boss told us that the best way to impress any employer is to be at your desk before they arrive and still be there when they leave. Unfortunately, this attitude framed much of my subsequent years of employment.
Later in my career, two different attitudes began to shift my understanding of how to work. I was in a media environment, full of young people regularly working long hours because that’s what you were expected to do. Apart from one co-worker.
This person was in at 9:30 in the morning and out at 6. He was well known in the company for this. Far from this attitude being looked down upon, his discipline was respected, so much so that he eventually became head of his department. I took from this that what REALLY impressed employers was being good at your job and being able to do it during working hours, and he became one of the role models I found worth emulating.
My boss at this time was also an influence. While he worked the erratic hours our industry demanded, he was also a devoted father of two, and often would be away from the office doing things with them. It was a small company, but one where family was valued.
Ten years later, half of which I spent as a stay-at-home dad, I find myself back in the workplace as a parent. Luckily (well, somewhat by design) I’ve landed in a company that truly values family and embraces flexible work hours for all. I am using these as much as possible.
I work from home two days a week, meaning I can do the school run and regularly help out in my child’s class, too. On office days, I stagger my working day by two hours so I can do after-school pick up. Our company has unlimited holiday days (no, really), enabling family getaways plus days off here and there for trips, school events and so on. If our daughter is sick, I can decide to work from home at the last minute, knowing my decision will be fully supported by my manager.
These benefits are great and enable me to still be that father I wanted to be, only now back at work. But to help enable the next generation of fathers, I don’t think it’s enough to just take advantage of these benefits.
Like role models before me, I need to be seen using this flexibility by younger colleagues who don’t yet have kids. I need to demonstrate that being an active, engaged parent doesn’t mean I can’t do a good job and be considered an asset to the company.
When I leave early, I don’t sneak out – I practically announce it, saying goodbye to the office. I add every school and child related event during working hours to my calendar, so all can see. I bring my daughter to work, showing how I can spend time with her while still doing my job (and so everyone can see what a great relationship we have, too).
I’m not saying I’m a role model. There’s nothing admirable about what I’m doing. In fact, I merely want it to seem utterly normal. I simply want everyone to see that the flexible hours of the modern working parent are not the purview of the working mother alone, as it was when I was starting my career. And, I want to share a little of how awesome I think being a father is.
About the author
In a previous life, Simon Ragoonanan of the United Kingdom was a television producer. He has been a stay-at-home dad to his daughter since she was 6 months old. He occasionally still works in TV, is a freelance writer, and blogs about being the dad of a daughter at Man vs. Pink.