Being a modern dad is about being flexible at every level. Making the kids' meal? Eat yours later. Broken sleep after your little one climbed in with you? Sleep on the train. Can't go to the big match you bought tickets for months ago, due to a surprise emergency? Watch it on MOTD later. Every day you have to make small or big decisions that impact on each waking hour, especially where your children are concerned.
You'd think that by 'escaping' to work, if you have a traditional 9-5 role that is, you'd be exempt from such vagaries. You get a bit of 'me' time on the journey. Snooze. Book. Newspaper. Film or TV to watch. Games to play... modern life is overloaded with time depleting and endorphin producing distractions. Go smartphone.
At work is even better: Tea/coffee breaks. Adult conversation. Gossiping (yep, men do it). Game of Thrones catch-up conversations, and oh yeah, the work you're there to do. But always lurking beneath that seemingly clear and sparkling lake of tranquillity that is the workplace, is the heart wrenching feeling that bubbles up like an emotional oil spill. The simple fact - you'd rather be with your children.
Sometimes you may be called away for an actual A&E emergency. It's parents evening. Your partner's in strife because the car's broken down, and you have to go, cap in hand to your superior and ask (tell really, but in a polite, slightly grovelly way) that you need to shoot off. "I'll make the time up". "I'll get in early/stay late".
Well, it seems as though god willing, you're flexible wherever possible in this modern age where you share domestic duties with your partner. You might both work as childcare is extortionate, and your flexibility means sometimes you're stretched to the limit, but your employer? Stuck in the Dark Ages.
A BBC News headline of 'Fathers 'afraid to ask for flexible working'' has put a Big Top spotlight on the modern fathers' elephant in the room again. Can childcare be shared with flexible hours please?
We know the modern workplace is far from modern in many instances. Women have to build a career, then 'sacrifice' it at the altar of archaism because they want to have children and put their career on hold, only to be phased out or barred due to a personnel or skill set requirement change. Those jobs that, you know, children grow up then to go out to and repeat the process ad infinitum. I get that, and it sucks. Hopefully, it's slowly changing with a shift in employer attitudes and legislations.
It's not limited to women though. If men want (and should) be more involved with the care of their children, it's an awkward arena to be fighting in - trying to balance work and childcare by reducing hours or being flexible with them.
"I'm working from home today". Sure to rouse a tingling of gentle suspicion in anybody. What? You mean you're going to be as productive there as here? Yep. More comfortable, no commute. Less stress. All deliverables delivered. But if you're a father...
"I'd like to work from home one day a week, and be flexible with my working hours so I can occasionally enjoy the school holidays with my family without having to swallow up my leave. I'd like to take time outside of those prescribed periods where the travel industry has a monopoly on prices that we're a slave to, and will be fined by schools if we don't! Could I possibly be flexible enough so my wife doesn't have to do the school run every day and I get a chance to bond with my children?" Sorry. Your contract states...
And herein lies the rub. HR needs to change its practices. Companies need to re-evaluate their attitudes to fatherhood as well as motherhood. The infrastructure needs to change to give us more support.
Being a SAHD does make you seemingly SAD in the eyes of many. "Oh. What happened? Why are you at home and not the wife? Were you made redundant? Are you coping alright?" We can and we do, but it's fucking stressful. There. Said it.
You can take your mindfulness and work-life balance strategies. Screw a packed fridge of beers and wine for Friday Office Happy Hour. No, I won't play a few foosball games on my lunch break. I'm trying to remain healthy, sane and be the damn best father I can be.
It's not a case of Trainspotting, 'Choose....' one thing at a time. We want to be flexible we can demonstrate it, we can and do make it work and we need employers to see it too.
Freelancing (I'm a copywriter and do juggle everything even when on a long-term contract), part-time hours and other avenues do help, but they have their hindrances (less money, benefits, protection and security).
Employers? Wake up to the fact that the world communicates, works and runs on a 24/7 clock that throws up different needs and unexpected turns all the time. Can that report not be done at night, from home then delivered? Hello! Skype conference calls. Tech has provided us with all the ways to be flexible, but unless there's some kind of Skynet fear lurking in the business world (thanks James Cameron), embrace it, and give us men (and women) the opportunities to be good parents that will raise a future generation that will make more changes until it truly becomes a reflection of the times and not holding up a mirror to the past's attitude.