And while the film’s a work of fiction (and Begbie has a point), it’s telling that another person holding an opinion about one’s lifestyle choice is considered worse than being dumped out of a cab at Casualty following an overdose.
Similarly (sort of), the worst thing about working from home and looking after children while your wife wears a suit in the city is not the solitude, emasculation, repetition or domestic drudgery – though along with fun, freedom, joy, love, golf and beer, it can be all those things – it’s enduring opinions and perceptions of what it is that you do.
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For a start, “Stay at home dad” is a rubbish job description. It’s a trite, outdated misnomer. Like the hideous “Daddy day care” it smacks of beardies in the ‘70s putting babies in home-made wicker chest cabooses and riding tandem bicycles. It’s less a job description as a licence to perceive. It needs rebranding. Granted it’s not like you’re piloting the Soviet submarine Krasnogvardeyets under sheet ice in the Denmark Strait. But it needs rebranding. Call it ‘top executive paratrooper man’, or something, I dunno.
I do know that eight years ago wifey and I had twin boys. Eighteen months later, another one. What were we thinking? Don’t know. I can scarcely remember it. Three kids under two? It was like the fog of war. The in-laws did some child-minding one evening, we went out, fell asleep in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which is impenetrable at the best of times, much less after six months’ no sleep and a bottle of shiraz.
But it was a beautiful time. A mate of mine said it best: it’s amazing how much you love them. They were sweet, gurgling, beautiful little suckers. You could look at them all day, roll about. Lovely times.
Twelve months in wifey headed off to earn some money in the city while I, by dint of a freelance writing gig, was well-placed to tend to the rascals. And I was good with it. I was good at it. I was like: there are no rules here. I am the main man. I can run this show however I please. And it was true; I could – after a fashion.
I’d take the twin babies to the pub in the pram. Didn’t go for a session, just a couple beers; watch some sport, the little fellas asleep or sucking on a bottle, gibbering away, delighting patrons and staff.
delighting patrons and staff. I’d take them out onto the local golf course. No one out there, it was the same as going for a walk around the joint; just while whacking away with a 5-iron. And people looked and pointed like I was a Kalahari bushman on a hunt. And that was cool. Good to shock ’em sometimes.
Another time I took the pram into the Members Bar of the golf club and it was not cool. No one said anything but the distaste of the old boys was palpable. Club rules state: “No Children”. I didn’t know. Because what was it, 1974? Apparently, yes, it was. Sleeping baby children? In our dedicated man-zone? The very idea. And the twains, whatever they are, never met.
Like any lifestyle choice, there are hits and misses. And if you’d like to give it a go, if it works in your familial situation, I’d recommend it. Lifestyle’s good. Hours are long but your own. You will, unless your partner’s running a bank - and I don’t mean a branch, I mean the bank – have two jobs. The one that earns money, and the one that does not. Both will be undervalued, one for being part-time, the other for being parenting. A billion mothers could tell the same story.
The gig is like a series of routine, domestic chores complemented by “work”. You may feel less a man (though I never have) that your wife earns more than you and does the majority of “real” work. There can be isolation. Remember when Homer Simpson worked from home? He was excited when the mail came.
Typical day goes like this: 05:30 – pull on pants, take laptop to café, type stuff; 07:30 – feed kiddies, dress kiddies, pack bags, kiss wifey off to the bus; 09:00 – take kiddies to school; 09:30 – on the tools on laptop in café or home; 13:00 – lunch, reading paper; 14:00 – clean house, do laundry, work out when to pick up children and what to pack for after-school activities that include tennis, swimming, soccer, AFL and rugby; 17:30 – open beer, cook dinner; 18:00 – dinner; 18:30 – bath; 19:30 – kids to bed; 20:30 – kids asleep; 21:30 – you asleep.
Thus, you will need an outlet. And friends. Yet just as there was no enthusiasm from the old boys to back the pram into the Members Bar, don’t expect entreaties from the sisterhood to join them. After giving birth, women form groups. And they don’t call them “parents’ groups”. They are “mothers’ groups”.
You see them down the mall, prams circled like wagons. And they’re holding empathetic conversations, feeding babies, smiling, nodding, “nesting”, whatever that is. They don’t even have to be friends. They’re just in a similar stage of life. And it’s all very “other”.
My lads are school-age now and it’s a bit different. It’s still mainly women at the school pick-up and drop-off, and they are nice people. And you can chat about small things and be friendly, though not overly. You can’t be friends-friends. You can’t have a coffee, you and a mum. Entire suburbs would know quicker than intel shared among a mass migration of North African starlings.
One time the first grade social committee organised a “Dad’s Evening Out” because the mums had had one, and they thought the men, in fairness, should have one too. Nice sentiment; terrible idea. It was organised by one of the mums and thus wasn’t a day at the races or footy or anything that would’ve been, you know, good. Rather it was a night in the local Indian restaurant in which 10 men who didn’t know each other asked what each other did. Worst platonic, multiple, same-sex Tinder speed date ever.
There’s a couple of dads at school who do what I do, and we have a yarn after depositing the spawn. There’s sporadic coffee, talk of work and sport. But we’re not ladies who lunch. Because, we know, pretty soon, it all begins again.
The repetition can lean to drudgery. There can be solitude. And no-one actually cares. But seeing your boy bolt away beaming, a footy under his arm, is magnificent. Watching girls, eyes gleaming like pixies, chasing boys with sheets of paper that say “I love you”, you will laugh fit to burst. There is achievement in the life, and satisfaction, and love. Certainly beats heroin.