Books about mums and dads…

There are loads of mum books and not many dad ones, except, it seems, when it comes to bereavement…


The most recent edition of the Mums.Dads.Work podcast the workingdads’ editor Ben Falk and I discussed books by parents about parenting. There are an awful lot about mums, but not nearly as many by dads. That was part of the rationale given by Caitlin Moran for writing her recent book, What about men?, although only one chapter is about being a dad. But what we need is more books by dads.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed that when it comes to books about losing a child, there tend to be more books by dads. I’ve been reading a lot of books by parents on this subject as many who have lost a child do. You want to know how others have coped because often the people around you have no idea what it’s like. How could they? I’d probably say that I’ve read more books by dads than mums in the last three years, most recently Michael Rosen’s book Getting Better [which is not solely about being a dad or about losing his son] and Ben Goldsmith’s God is an Octopus. There have been several others, most memorably Kadian Journal by Thomas Harding and Dear Charlie: Letters to a Lost Daughter by Reg Thompson.  The books are outpourings of love for their children and focus on their lives as well as their deaths. Historically, too, male authors have written about the loss of their children.

Yet the support groups I’ve been to are mostly populated by mums, and dads who do go can feel an anomaly. Often there are mums there who have been going for five, 10 and more years. It’s one of the only places they have to offload where people understand and it’s also a place where they can help each other. I remember one woman who had barely left her house since her daughter died years ago. I know parents who have just lost children who find that scary. The thought that this all-encompassing sadness will never end. It’s too much to take in, particularly when you are in the early months or years of shock. Not everyone will want the same kind of support. Some might push support away. Some might seek different types of support at different times.

I find books helpful. They provide a form of companionship, help you think through difficult things and make you feel less alone. Grieving in Covid has been a particularly lonely experience.

But why are there proportionately not so many books about the day-to-day business of being a dad rather than the extremes of parenting? Are dads generally too busy to put pen to paper? Is it because quite a lot of books about parenting are by freelancers and writers and not by your average person working all hours [although dads may also be freelancers and authors]? Is it because it absorbs so much more of the daily reality of mums, still? Is it because it is more expected that women will both write and read about it? Are women still more judged about their maternal skills than men and therefore need to read about how others are coping? It could be many different, clashing things. I know my partner has never read a book about dads. Ever. Whereas my shelves are creaking with books about mums, but then that is my job, even if one big pull for doing the job was finding out how other women manage the whole thing. My brother is a single dad, but, though he talks about parenting quite a bit, I doubt he has read a book on it.

Maybe it’s better not to read books about it and to find your own way through it. After all, sometimes books can be a policing tool rather than a support. Who knows? But just as social expectations and attitudes are embedded in all things, from the legal system to employer policies, they may also be embedded in what we choose or don’t choose to read.

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