Back in the year 5BC (five years Before Children), a friend shared his fantasy with me. “I wish I could lounge around at home all day with a baby instead of working,” he confessed. “You can watch DVDs, do a spot of reading and ring your mates at work. I mean, how hard can it be?” To my eternal shame, I nodded along in agreement.
Fast forward five years. As a stay-at-home dad, I look back and laugh. On the more manic days with Our Glorious Leader (as we call our daughter) the laughter is near-hysterical.
The best cure for this hysteria would be to get out more and interact with other dads in the same boat, but that can be tricky when the outside world is tailored more to mums trying baby yoga or buggy exercise classes.
It’s a mum’s world
Although the number of dads looking after their children at home is on the up (189,000 at the beginning of 2008), mums at home still outnumber us by almost 11 to one.
Unless you know where to find them, other stay-at-home dads seem to be of the lesser-spotted variety. Three-time dad Edmund Farrow agrees. “I only ever tended to run into dads when they were on holiday from work,” says Edmund, 35, from Edinburgh, who runs www.dadsdinner.com and is dad to Marie, 3, Lewis, 5, and Fraser, 8.
The number of dedicated dad-centric activities available reflects this. Some dads speak of dad and baby clubs in the same incredulous tones as mythical beasts. “Dad’s clubs? Maybe in London,” quips Edmund.
Despite Edmund’s scepticism, dad’s clubs may be scarce but aren’t just in the capital. For example, those in the West Midlands are catered for by Daddy Long Legs, a dedicated programme for dads based in Sandwell.
“Being a dad for the first time can be frightening,” says Anne-Marie Randall of the popular Daddy Long Legs group. “We aim to support dads and encourage the important role of the father. In the first three months, we signed up nearly 60 new dads.”
Take a deep breath
But, for the majority of us dads, our only option is to join a mum and baby club. “It’s weird at first,” says Howard Samuels, 50, who took his son Louie, 16 months, along to one, “but they don’t have a bouncer turning males away at the door! Just take a deep breath and dive in. It gets better.”
“Initially, you may be viewed as a bit of an oddity,” agrees John Rowlinson, who runs www.dadathome.co.uk. “You’ll be watched closely to make sure you hold your baby the right way up and have at least a vague knowledge of what you’re doing. But, once you explain how you came to be a home dad, and give a full report on how you’re handling the task, you’ll soon be accepted as one of the tribe.”
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Safety in numbers
If your wife or partner has joined the NCT, you should remember that membership applies to you as well. Check the website to find local meetings and events. And, if you got on well with the other couples you met when you attended antenatal classes, why not make the effort to stay in touch?
“Both dads- and mums-to-be were in attendance at our NCT classes,” says Alex Smith, 42, dad to Daisy, 3, and Laura, 6 months. “I grabbed the bull by the horns and took on the role of social secretary. There were two dads planning to stay home and we met regularly – safety in numbers is best at the mum and baby clubs! We also met up with the go-to-work dads once a month.”
It seems the message is simple: make your presence known to other dads and take the plunge. You and your little one will soon reap the rewards.
“I’ve picked up some great tips from mum and baby clubs”
“In my experience, dad clubs are thin on the ground. But the one I did find – in a south London pub – was a welcoming, positive experience.
There are a few challenges though. As an older first-time dad, I find I have to work that little bit harder to find common ground with dads who can be as young as half my age.
In the company of blokes, the temptation is to default to the usual conversational staples of football, work and jokes – topics in which we seek refuge in a cunning bid to hide our real feelings from other men for fear of being judged a sissy. That’s just not the case here – just plunge in, open up and ask questions, too.
I moved out of south London last year and I’ve yet to find an alternative dedicated dad and baby club. So, I ended up gingerly poking my head round the door of the mum and baby clubs. I just wish people called them ‘parent and baby’ clubs: it would help to stop the assumption that only mums stay at home.
But, in many ways, I’ve found it easier to express myself at mum and baby groups. I’ve also picked up some great tips just by listening to mums. And, most importantly, it makes me a better dad for Isobella to be around.”
Dad-friendly things to do:
1. Go to the swings or the local park. They’re among the best places to find other dads, especially at weekends.
2. Pop your tot in a baby carrier and take a trip to a museum or gallery. Even if you don’t meet any other dads, you’re likely to get plenty of attention from people cooing over your baby.
4. Take your tot swimming and you’re likely to find lots of dads at your local pool. The only slightly tricky bit can be the changing rooms if you have an inquisitive daughter in tow with you in the men’s room!