Stereotype says that Stay-at-Home-Dads are dodgers. They are life’s loafers, avoiding responsibility and real work by using their offspring as a handy excuse to idle away the hours doing very little. In contrast to Stay-at-Home-Mums, who rush around from the dingy grey of dawn until the star-spangled night and only pause to eat because – well – somebody has to clear up those half-eaten fish-fingers that the children left from dinner, a Dad spends a goodly portion of his day lounging on the sofa or having fun.
So saith the stereotype.But, as dozens of angry SaHDs will no doubt testify, stereotype often gets things wrong. There’s no smoke without fire, it’s true, but sometimes smoke gets in your eyes and the facts go a little hazy.
A couple of weeks ago, as a fully-unpaid-member of the (apparently) loafin’, time-wastin’, good-fer-nuthin’ SaHD community I was given the opportunity to put stereotype to the test, when I spent a few days doing some ‘real man’s work’ in a Blackburn warehouse. The labour was busy, hard and dirty, mainly involving shifting many heavy boxes onto pallets and wheeling them around with clattering pump trucks. Lunch was taken, from choice, leaning in a semi-perpendicular position against a desk and involved unhealthily-large quantities of sugary cakes and coca-cola, which kept me functioning alongside regularly-replenished cups of coffee. The warehouse was cold, the floors covered in a layer of filth which coated my fingers and burrowed deeply into the cracks in my skin.“Hello, Daddy!” came Graham’s cheery voice over the phone. “Are you having a nice holiday?” I considered my aching limbs, my weary head and stomach… and smiled mirthlessly.
This was man’s work at its most stereotyped; a cliché writ large. My SaHD life curled up on a comfy sofa reading stories to my children was half a country away.But at five o’clock each day came pay-back. The lights in the warehouse flicked off and, as darkness descended, my colleagues and I trooped out into the cold afternoon air. Fifteen minutes later we were back in our hotel rooms, our day’s labour at an end and the only things remaining on our to-do list being a wash, dinner and bed.
Back at home, where Gilly was having to balance school runs, cooking, cleaning and all manner of household tasks alongside her normal work routine, the business of the day was far from over. While I was relaxing in a hot bath, allowing the day’s accumulated layers of grit and grime to gently detach themselves from me, she was switching off her computer and running downstairs to cook dinner – a task that would normally fall to me. While I was politely reminding the waiter that I had asked for my steak to be ‘well done’ and not medium rare (true story, there was still blood trickling out of it in places) Gilly was running the children’s baths (another of my jobs) reading stories, cleaning teeth and tidying bedrooms. While I relaxed on my hotel bed watching TV, she would have been surveying an untidy kitchen and trying to work out how much she could cram into the dishwasher.Aside from work I lived a life of unalloyed leisure. Someone cooked my breakfast, someone cooked my tea and someone washed up my dirty dishes. Someone even made my bed for me while I was out. I may have been hard at work, but I was also being given the opportunity to be spectacularly idle.
Stereotypes have limits. After three days of hard labour I arrived home refreshed, invigorated and with the fixed idea that rising at six-thirty was a pretty neat concept (a resolution that met an inevitable demise the following morning). I was greeted at the door by a weary-looking lady who spent the next few days constantly saying how glad she was to have me home. I returned to the school run, the washing machine, the kitchen, toys on the floor and hastily-gobbled bowls of cornflakes for breakfast.
They say that change is as good as a rest. Perhaps Graham had a point – I had been on holiday. The working holiday of a SaHD.