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Fathers in Modern Britain: Thriving or Surviving?

17/06/2016 09:45 | Updated 17 June 2016

I'm Dave and I live with my partner, Sarah, our son Freddie who's three years old and my daughter Ashton who's ten.

Both Sarah and I work. Sarah does twenty eight hours a week in a call centre for an insurance company. I am a Duty Manager for a handling agent at an airport.

Between us we earn approximately thirty-five thousand pounds a year, taking home less than thirty.

We are lucky enough to own our own home, but it's not a great area and there are lots of ongoing issues with the house. So we're trying to save so we can move. Our mortgage payments are less than the rent we used to pay, so it should be easy. Except it isn't.

Financially we're okay from one month to the next. Except there's a list of things that need doing to the house as long as your arm. One by one we'll sort them out. When we do however, two more things appear on the list. Then there are the unexpected big expenses - for example three weeks before Christmas when the fridge freezer broke.

In order for Sarah to do the amount of hours she does, we had to come up with a roster for her that worked around my shift pattern. Luckily, Sarah's employers agreed to it as we aren't entitled to any tax credits and the childcare costs would be almost as much as her salary.

So when I work my early shift I start work at 5am and finish at 2pm. Sarah will take Freddie to nursery at 1pm, then go straight to work for 2. I get home after work, get changed and maybe run an errand or two before having to pick Freddie and sometimes Ashton up at half three.

By arranging our lives like this, Sarah and I have sacrificed the part of our relationship where we spend quality time together, with or without the kids. A day out with the kids is a single parent affair nine out of ten times. Family meals almost never happen. To cap it all off we're exhausted most of the time.

While I love spending loads of time with my children, when you've been up since four in the morning, it's hard to have the enthusiasm to play dinosaurs, cars and particularly planes - remembering I work at an airport.

As a family are we thriving because both parents spend lots of time with the children?

Or are we barely surviving because the time we spend with them isn't necessarily quality time?

And the time all of us spend together is counted in minutes per month.

Going back three years, when Sarah was on maternity leave, she was encouraged to attend classes, courses and sessions about parenting by 'Flying Start' (the Welsh version of Children's Centres). To be fair they do a very good job for mums. In our area they offer healthy eating and in-home safety support, as well as providing twelve hours a week of free childcare after the child's second birthday.

They do some activities aimed at dads - such as the 'Men Behaving Dadly' group that I attend, which is how I became involved with the charity 4Children, but there are many more initiatives aimed at mums.

I believe this highlights an oversight in modern society. There is pressure on dads to be so called modern men and to 'do their bit'. Yet dads are offered a mere fraction of the support that mums receive.

I used to take Freddie to a quite a few pop in and play sessions when he was a baby. When we went, the staff were very friendly and welcoming, but the mums would never speak to me, other than a polite hello after about three visits to the same session. It was almost like I as intruding on their turf, and was to be treated with extreme caution.

So while I fully support a support structure for mums, there could be more consideration for dads.

Having assessed my family situation and measured the rough against the smooth, I've concluded that my family and I are surviving well, but in difficult circumstances, and I always feel rather close to a precipice, and at any time I may lose my balance.

Are there solutions to these issues? Of course there are. Are they easy? Absolutely not.

There are three things I would put forward that I believe could help me describe my family as thriving instead of surviving.

I would like to see full time free childcare for families in which both parents work and for single parents who work.

The gap between maternity and paternity entitlements should be narrowed if dads are to achieve the "modern guy" status that we're told we should.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, and definitely the most difficult thing, is to address the constantly rising cost of living and the permanently stagnated wages faced by families like mine. But ultimately, this is the only way to help dads like me achieve the ambitions I have for myself, Sarah and our children.

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