As a feminist, few things interest me less than the British monarchy. Even the audacious move earlier this year to make it possible for a girl to ascend the throne, should one be born ahead of a royal brother, didn't make me raise an ironic toast of gin and Dubonnet.
But Thursday's news that Prince William is leaving the RAF's Action Man Division - sorry, Search and Rescue Force - caught my attention. That's because there is a hope, be it ever so slim, that William could do something that would make women the world over - even women like me - hail him as the best thing to happen to Britain since Boudicca.
Grab the burp cloth and pick out your preferred get-baby-to-sleep manual, Lt. Wales, it's time to become a house husband.
To give credit where it's due, it was royal historian and writer Kate Williams who let slip on Radio 4's Today programme that maybe Prince William could become the golden god of the Third Wave. (I paraphrase - here's what she really said...)
"Why not say Prince William is going to be a stay-at-home dad?" Williams said, after repeating the much-bandied news that the royal baby will have no nanny. "We know that to be a stay-at-home parent is one of the most important jobs you can do. For a monarch to say they're a stay-at-home dad, that would be pretty revolutionary."
Imagine the message it would send to parents, politicians, employers and decision-makers everywhere if the future king of the U.K. embraced the opportunity to demonstrate the value of fathers playing an active role in their children's lives?
That's not to suggest that fathers who are unable or choose not to be the primary caregiver are absentee dads. The fact is, no matter how much involvement with their children's daily care many fathers crave, the support structure - not to mention the societal acceptance - is not there. If stay-at-home mums are undervalued and underappreciated, stay-at-home dads are positively ridiculed in many instances.
Would that change with William leading the charge?
Sure, there would be an uproar from all corners. Royalists would balk at the break with tradition. Republicans, an estimated 15% of the British population, would scoff that William was taking the easy route, no longer even serving the country that keeps him in palaces and his wife in pretty frocks. City boys, politicians and all other manner of unreconstructed men would feel threatened by the upending of the status quo, and what it might mean for the future of manhood and all that represents. And they'd be right to feel that way.
For too long, mothers who stay home with their children have been a lightning rod for everyone with an opinion. They're selfless saints playing the most essential role possible for a woman. They're morons mooching about with bits of sweet potato in their hair. Either way, they have been undervalued and dismissed by men and women alike, regardless of the reasons they've chosen - or not - to be full-time parents.
If someone as high profile as William made the statement that full-time parents, of either gender, are playing an integral role in the early years of their children's lives, it might just bring about a cultural shift; people might start to believe childcare isn't only a woman's duty, and see that the benefits of fathers being actively involved cannot be overstated.
I don't write this as simply a frustrated feminist, but I do think I'm particularly qualified to speak on the subject, having been on pretty much every side of the debate. I've stayed at home for years with my young sons and stepdaughters. I've also worked full-time, with help from my husband and, at different points, child-minders, a nursery and, yes, even a nanny.
My husband, too, was a stay-at-home dad when his daughters were young. Like William, he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy who took an early retirement option after serving for more than seven years.
Did he find it easy to be the only dad at playgroups, especially after years of spending his days, as William did, in a helicopter? Of course not. At times, he admits now, he was bored and frustrated - just like most stay-at-home mums frequently are. This admission alone made a world of difference when the broken nights and thankless days as a stay-at-home mother got the better of me, and he knew enough to step in whenever I needed help.
But even years after going back to work full-time in a different career, he has a better relationship with his children than your average father. Moreover, his five years at home made him appreciate both how difficult and ultimately rewarding it is to have that time with your children. William would, too.
If nothing else, in the unlikely event that William did make Prince George - and not "royal duties" - his priority, it would mean that one boy would have significant, meaningful time with both his parents, who had the foresight to appreciate that sharing childcare is equally good for a child's long-term emotional well-being as it is for the parents as individuals.
Many hands make light work, after all, and if the Windsors really aren't going to outsource little George to a palace-approved Mary Poppins, then both William and Kate taking an equal part in the endless cycle of feeding, burping, changing, putting down and cooing at their baby would be royally hailed by this feminist and mum.
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