Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad and Pampers for this promotion.
When my wife became pregnant, we were overjoyed. We had decided the time was right to have a child, and it happened relatively quickly which was wonderful. We knew of many people who had struggled.
As my wife’s pregnancy developed, we both agreed it felt like we were going to have a boy. We were absolutely convinced about this. This must be the parental instinct we thought, that we were so in tune with our unborn child, we knew they were a boy.
As Father’s Day messages go, you may not think much of it. But to me, this message from my 3-year-old daughter in a card she made at nursery, is gold.
While obviously dictated (her handwriting isn’t that good), one of the reasons I love it is I know that it’s genuine. Our shared love of Star Wars has become a defining aspect of our relationship.
Those of you who follow my blog will know I’m rather into all things Star Wars, and most people – especially those who know me – assume that I’m merely indoctrinating my young padawan daughter into the ways of the force. The truth is rather more complicated than that. I have a bit of a confession to make. Until a couple of years ago, I was actually a pretty lapsed Star Wars fanboy.
“I am a Star Wars fan, like my father before me.”
I had always intended to show my daughter Star Wars, and if interested to give her my old toys when she was older. I figured probably when she was 7 or so, the age I saw Star Wars. But before she was even 2-years-old, she saw one of Jeffrey Brown’s Vader books and loved it. Not long after, I brought my old Star Wars toys home from my parents – intending to store them in the attic for next few years – but they never made it past the living room. She spotted them and they’ve been a permanent fixture there ever since. If I remember correctly, it was my wife who encouraged me to show our daughter Star Wars.
She also plays with my old Star Wars LEGO, and lacking a Princess Leia minifig, made some up herself. She frequently chooses to wear her Star Wars clothes (especially a certain skirt!), and dress up as Darth Vader. She also enjoys trying to chop my arms off with her lightsaber. While I clearly delight in all this, it is instigated by her.
So the thing is – rather than me trying to mould her into a Star Wars fan, her enthusiasm for the galaxy far, far away has actually reawakened my own Star Wars fandom, inspiring me to reconnect with these beloved characters and scenarios I thought I had relegated to simple nostalgia. Her enthusiasm for the saga frequently surpasses my own.
“I want to watch Star Wars.” Not now. “I want to watch it now.” Not now. “l want to watch it!”. No! Being a parent is really hard sometimes.
Because she was embracing this so eagerly, the world of Star Wars merchandise became a bit of a gendered marketing battleground for me. But through this I have also connected with the amazing Star Wars fangirl community, who engage with Star Wars in ways that us fanboys never really considered. Many of them are also from a younger generation, so came to the saga via a different path. I had never heard of Ahsoka Tano a year ago, and now my daughter and I are enjoying discovering her unfolding story in The Clone Wars cartoon that I had previously ignored. The fangirl community is amazing, and should my daughter continue to enjoy these geeky interests, I am so glad that there is such a warm, loving, and inspiring community out there for her to join.
“You have taken your first step into a larger world.”
I love her Father’s Day message because it places value on the fact that I watch Star Wars with her. I always sit with her when she watches anything while home with me. I have never used the TV as a babysitter (this is probably why I get a lot less done around the house than I should!).
To me the television is not a passive pursuit, a device you turn on to tune out of life for a while. It is something to engage with. To discover new stories, strange new worlds, incredible ideas, and inspiring people. To stimulate your mind, and create questions you will seek to answer. So when my daughter and I watch TV together, watch Star Wars together, I answer any of her questions and discuss them further if needs be.
For example, what happened to Obi-Wan when he had the lightsaber fight with Darth Vader? A talk about death and how people live on in the memories of those who love them took place. When Princess Leia was shown in her skimpy ‘slave’ outfit in Return of the Jedi, my daughter asked “Why has Princess Leia got no clothes on?”. An early discussion about slavery, objectification, and sexual objectification ensued.
You will read endless articles portraying a generation of kids having too much ‘screentime’, but less on what they’re actually watching, and very little about how we as parents empower our children to understand, analyse, and question what they’re being presented with. They are growing up in the digital age, and it’s our responsibility to ensure they’re media savvy as early as possible.
So watching Star Wars with her, creating an environment where she can engage and analyse it, has been an important part of her own development and our parent & child relationship.
But she loves Star Wars as a story too, and has been happy to watch each film in a single sitting ever since she was 2-years-old. Of the characters, my daughter is a big Princess Leia fan but her other favourite one is Darth Vader. The reason? Because he’s Princess Leia’s daddy.
I don’t know how long my daughter’s love of it will last, but for now this is our thing as a father & daughter. So I’ll take my daughter thinking I’m super because I watch Star Wars with her. I also think she’s pretty awesome for watching it with me too.
“There’s the mummy swan with all her babies!” exclaimed my three-year-old daughter about the swan on the canal with their cygnets. We had probably seen daddy swan earlier, picking fights with the local geese.
I’m one of the growing number of stay-at-home dads, and I’ve been home with my daughter since she was six months old. Yet despite having an at-home dad for most of her life, she still defaults to the assumption that the parent looking after their children must be the mother.
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. We had just left the baby & toddler group I help to run, where there were dozens of parents and carers – but I was the only man there. On the walk home, we bumped into a few more parents we knew, all of them mothers at home with their children. That morning, I had read numerous books to my daughter, including classics such as Where The Wild Things Are, Dogger, and some Mog books – all of which, like many in our collection, feature the mother as primary carer.
This ‘norm’ carries over into other aspects of how parenting in portrayed or perceived – including nature, where there are far fewer everyday examples of nurturing fathers to cite. We tend to humanise, or give character too, the animals around us. When it comes to their parenting, the gender roles can be perceived very rigidly, whether it’s a cartoon with talking animals or us observing their behaviour in real life.
But one of the things that makes us human is our ability to transcend nature. Unlike animals we can choose to suppress our urges, not act on instincts we know are not relevant to the world we find ourselves in, and change the way we parent to suit our circumstances.
Being the dad used to be seen as being the breadwinner, or the sports guy, or the one who cooks with on the barbecue. Some of those dad cliches apply to me. But I’m also the dad who’s at home with our daughter, loves cuddling her, will happily play dolls with her, and ties a damn good ponytail.
Reflecting this changing view of fatherhood, stock photography provider Getty Images has launched a special collection to coincide with Father’s Day. The images show fathers as nurturing, caring, and attentive parents, offering a more modern idea of masculinity and fatherhood.
These stock photos will become part of the everyday noise of the online parenting world, turning up in peoples social timelines and hopefully evolving perceptions about dads among those that don’t see fathers this way yet.
It’s easy to relax into accepted norms. Sometimes we need to curate the way the world around us is presented, to reflect not only the way it is, but the way we want it to be.
So when my daughter pointed out the ‘mummy’ swan, I felt the need to introduce an element of doubt and analysis into the conversation. “How do you know it’s the mummy swan?”, I asked, “It might be the daddy?”. She pondered for a moment, then decided that this time it was indeed the daddy, while it was the mother that was off having ‘me’ time battling the geese.
This may (almost certainly) have been factually incorrect, but learning isn’t just about facts. I am a great believer that one of the key ways we learn how to be human is through stories, and this includes the narratives we witness in everyday life. We take what we learn in these tales, to build up a vision of how society works. The fluidity of gender roles in parenthood is part of that.
And perhaps I’m being unfair on the poor old male Swan? They CAN change the way they parent to suit their circumstances. Cobs (as they’re called) are known to rear their cygnets by themselves if they lose their mate, so they clearly have within them the same desire to love and nurture their children as the female. So as far as we were concerned, daddy swan was with the kids that day, and we agreed they were having a wonderful time of it too.
Our playgroups put on new kiddy crafts each week. When a specific celebration comes around, they will usually revolve around that. So this week it was making Father’s Day cards.
Unlike the mums who were helping/directing their children to create them, I just let my daughter do her thing – it seemed odd commissioning one from her.
What was also odd were the actual cards they were supposed to end up with. Two playgroups opted for the same concept – the front of the card had been cut and folded down to look like a shirt collar, and there was a cutout tie to glue into place. The inference was clear (despite the fact I have only ever worn a shirt & tie for weddings and funerals): A father’s role in the family revolves around having a job. This is also the role that retailers like to cast us in.
Gendered marketing to children is an issue I take great interest in, unhappy as I am about commercial interests defining, from even before birth, what they think a boy or girl should be. But what about gendered marketing to adults? How does that affect us?
Father’s day for stay at home dads
I adore my current role in life as one of the growing army of stay-at-home dads. It has come about mostly from my long-held desire to do this, with financial circumstances supporting that choice (ie. My wife earning more than me). Frankly, it’s been a blast.
Out & about doing baby & toddler things with my daughter, I’ve gotten to know some dads, but mostly mums – and the fact is that in terms of being a parent I have far more in common with the at-home mums I meet than most working dads.
The offering around Mother’s Day tends to be all about ‘giving mum a break’ – from cooking, cleaning, childcare, etc. Brunches and pampering packages abound. What about Father’s Day? Traditional gifts revolve around either ‘work’ related gifts like smart socks, shirts, and ties, or ‘play’, things that are thought to keep men sane during the 9 to 5 – booze, sports, and gadgets. But there’s no sense that fathers like me – stay-at-home dads – also need a break from their routine and responsibilities.
By packaging the days in this way, retailers are reinforcing the idea that being the homemaker is a mother’s role, while that of breadwinner is still the father’s. I think these marketing driven definitions contribute to the guilt that many mothers feel about wanting to return to work, and lessen the chances of men admitting they would dearly love to be stay-at-home dads. Society follows suit – while we have the term ‘working mother’, the male equivalent would be recognised as ‘father’. I’m a ‘stay-at-home dad’, but for female counterparts ‘mum’ seems to suffice as a label.
I have generally felt ambivalent about Father’s Day since childhood, and I continue to do so as a father. Perhaps because my birthday is also only a few days away, and it seems greedy to have 2 ‘special’ days in one week. My cynical side also tends to judge Father’s Day as a way to package and sell more stuff, much like Halloween.
We have no out of the ordinary plans for the day – I will spend it with my wife and daughter, like most other ideal Sundays.
Then again, perhaps there is a purpose to ‘Father’s Day’? It has serendipitously coincided with the start of the Football World Cup. I could cynically take advantage of it to watch a couple of back-to-back games? Reverting to stereotype, I am a dad that likes watching football.
And having a break from my routine and responsibilities.