The benevolent dictator – finding a new role for a dad


As I sit in the kitchen of my home in North London, drinking the second coffee of the day, I’m reflecting on where I am at and what the future may hold. I’m not writing this blog to garner sympathy from people. I appreciate all I have. I share the home with my wife and two children. It’s because of them that I am here.

My wife and I decided that it made sense to send the children to nursery so we could further our careers and let someone else change nappies, but when our eldest, our daughter, was turning four, we knew that things were about to change. I had just gone back to work following five months of taking the much hyped, lowly lauded, shared parental leave. Our son had started nursery and our daughter was coming to the end of it.

The school that we had chosen and where she had a place was a 20-minute commute. The school hours meant that, in order to be able to pick up at 3:20pm each day, we would need to adjust hours to accommodate this. We talked it over on how were going to manage and it was decided that I would take the route to more “family friendly hours”. My wife is the main earner and I’m the one who can drive. It made sense!

After a poor experience of requesting shared parental leave, flexible working hours at my employer were a non-starter. I left and thought that I would find part-time work elsewhere without too much hassle. I was wrong. It’s been a demoralising process to go through with quite obvious discrimination taking place. What used to be a mainly female phenomenon of having to deal with dreadful employment rights and shocking employers, appears to have turned full circle and now the systems appear set in place to make finding part-time work as a father a very difficult business. With every interview that I attended the same type of questions keep creeping in: “Why doesn’t your wife pick up the kids?”, “It’s strange for a man to be asking for this type of flexibility, why do you need it?” etc

Do firms feel nervous that a man would want to take over the firm, but the same role can be offered to a woman because (totally incorrectly) “they’ll be only too happy to have the job to fit around the kids”? It sure feels that way. Society is moving on. Women now represent over a third of the main breadwinners in all households in the country, so logically men will need to start flexing their work to support the family and not leave this role to the wife. It’s not women’s work to run the house, nor is the domain of men to be the “benevolent dictator” as Gary Becker, the American economist, so nicely put it.

In this blog I plan to explore the social issues that impact on work decisions and how the workplace needs to reflect society ever more. It’s a gender neutral issue really. I’ll be doing that over a cup of coffee in my home whilst looking for that all important job!

*Richard Cahill is Dad in the Park.

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