Don’t let government come between dads and kids

Colin Bowern, flickr.com, CCBY2.0
Colin Bowern, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

I thought a father with young children needed mainly a warm heart, lots of patience and a capacity to survive without sleep. But the job has proved more complicated in Britain. To avoid the obstacles created by our government, I’ve needed specialist skills: of the undercover reporter, business entrepreneur and IT specialist.

It started the day my daughter was born. There had been a long, forceps delivery: mother and baby were exhausted. Next steps? “Go home, have a rest and come back tomorrow”, recommended the hospital. I looked at my beautiful daughter and her Mum who had just received stitches. “I’ll stick around,” said the journalistic sleuth, slipping out of one door and back in another. And that’s what I did for three days, sleeping on floors, hiding behind doors. I put the papa into paparazzi.

“To avoid the obstacles created by our government, I’ve needed specialist skills: of the undercover reporter, business entrepreneur and IT specialist.”

My family had escaped the first state-sponsored attempt to establish my irrelevance to our child’s welfare. But it wouldn’t be the last. Work was the next problem. I reckoned some flexibility would be helpful, now I was a dad. I’d been writing for the newspaper – a leading liberal publication – for six or seven years, working all hours. Surely, I could work a bit from home? “I want you sitting in the office next to mine all day, every day,” thundered the Editor, horrified at me swapping nappies for news stories. I had a legal entitlement to ask for flexible working, but no right to challenge refusal.

So, to be a dad, I said goodbye to newspapers and set up my own business. Thank goodness I did, because I became an IT specialist. That proved invaluable when the government threw up its next obstacle.

By the time the children went to school, I understood the importance of father involvement – for learning, emotional and social development, lifelong success and wellbeing. I wanted to know everything that was going on at school. But there was a problem. The school bought the government-recommended IT system for communicating with parents. I say “parents” but it could actually communicate with only one person in the family. And that wasn’t me.

So I helped the school with its IT. “I don’t understand the problem,” the head teacher told me. “My wife gets the emails and tells me all I need to know.” I suggested switching to an IT system that allowed multiple recipients. “Next, you’ll want the grandparents to get emails too,” said the bemused head teacher. “Great idea”, I replied. The school has finally got a new IT system. Grandparents can also be included.

Are things improving at last for dads and their children? I’m not alone – many fathers have acted like me. So I hoped that men might face fewer government-sponsored barriers to parenting. That’s until I saw a new government-commissioned report from Oxford University. It has studied, among other things, the importance of home environments for young children’s development. It’s an excellent study by a great research team. I even put my journalist hat on to interview them about how parents remain more influential than formal care in achieving school readiness.

The report is 80 pages long, thorough and learned. But I did tell them I was very disappointed on one point: there’s no mention of “fathers”.