“I do a lot of counselling work with men,” explains Aladdin Jones, a psychotherapist and community facilitator. “I recently spoke with a guy whose dad was a farmer who used to work flat-out seven days a week. ‘Oh yeah, I remember my dad played with me once,’ he said to me. ‘It was with a tractor at Christmas.’ It wasn’t that his dad didn’t mean well, but he just wasn’t available.
“Today, that guy I spoke to is a stay-at-home dad. His partner is out working and he looks after his 18 month-old son. I bet they’re playing with tractors far more often.
“That’s great, because when I talk with people in workshops about their relationships with their dads, it’s unusual that they’ll say that they were close growing up. But now we can change that. We can make sure our children grow up to say, ‘Yeah, my dad and I used to sit down and play together. He was there.’
“This is radical. In one generation, you’re doing something that men in your lineage just weren’t able to do. That’s extraordinary – in just one generation. These children will grow up with a dad who’s present, a dad who’s learnt how to communicate a bit, a dad who is really there, really present. That is such a game-changer.
“Society has always told men that you’re supposed to have all the answers: that you’re supposed to be strong, silent and not show your emotions. That has now changed. For the first time in history, we are presented with the opportunity to not be so constrained by what it is to ‘be a man’. We can now live outside of the traditional ‘man box’ and not be restricted by such a narrow definition of masculinity. And we know that defining ourselves more broadly results in better mental health, better relationships and happier families. Those are strong motivators to step up to the opportunity!
“Dads are at the forefront of this change. They’re the icebreakers in this brave, exciting new voyage. They have the opportunity to lead the way in terms of redefining gender roles and demonstrating vulnerability and openness in a way that previous generations never dreamed of. It’s a wonderful time to be alive and to be a dad.
“Personally, I’ve been two types of dad. I’ve got two teenage daughters and, when my older girl was young, I was more of the stay-at-home dad. I was studying for the first few years while my wife, Tess, was out teaching more. For me, that was such a great thing to be able to get up and go for a walk with my daughter or take her for a swim. I absolutely loved that time, where I had the opportunity to simply be with my daughter, to be present.
“Then it all changed. My second daughter came along and I was working full-time, plus renovating an old house. The stress levels were high. In addition to the workload stress, I felt like I was missing out and I had frustration around that, too. So when I did have interactions with my girls, they weren’t getting the best of me. They were getting a tired dad who was frustrated and stressed.
“At the time it felt like I was sacrificing myself to be the ‘provider’ for the family. That’s great and it’s a noble thing, but if it meant that I came home tired and stressed every night and wasn’t giving my family the best version of me, then who’s really winning?
“We can talk about gender equality, or we can do it. Now my wife and I work about the same hours a week. We basically each work a solid three days with a few extra bits and pieces. It’s more flexible. We both earn about the same amount of money and we both do about the same amount on the home front. There’s just that bit more space to be present, not just for the kids, but also for our relationship. That model works well for us. Working flat-out brought in more money, but the cost was pretty high to our health, to our happiness and the quality of our relationships.
“The older model of fatherhood was more like ‘I’ve got to provide the money, put food on the table and pay the mortgage’. But if we step outside of that, we can reframe what it means to ‘provide’ for our families. It could mean to take the time to grow some vegetables together. Or, even better, it could mean to provide emotional support. And what a provision that is!
“This kind of emotional investment into children and relationship pays off hugely. It’s good for dads to think in those terms. In the case of teenage girls, we know that when they have a father who is emotionally invested in them and physically present, they’re more likely to have a better relationship with their own bodies, they’re likely to have better mental health, and they’re likely to seek our better relationships. These kinds of dividends are paid, if there’s that investment earlier on.
“In my work, I’m across more and more dads who are saying, ‘I just want to be at home. I feel like I’m missing out.’ I think that’s a positive. OK, it might not feel great to have that sense of missing out. But at some level these guys are connecting with a longing to be present with their family. And that’s another sign of the great change that’s happening.
“There is no guidebook for this new type of dad, because it’s not like our dads all did it, but we’re having to go. For the new generation who are driving this change, they’re thinking ‘Well, I don’t want to be like that so, how am I going to be then? What else will I do?’.
“This change isn’t easy. Being a father isn’t easy. When you become a dad everything is amplified. Life becomes bigger. More vivid and bold. And it’s challenging, bloody tough at times. Everything is turned up in a positive way, but the stresses are turned up too. For this reason, it’s a great chance to say, ‘I don’t have all the answers’.
“But it’s not about searching for the answers either. It’s more about dads learning to share the load. It’s just those shared moments of acknowledging, ‘Yeah, bloody hell, it’s hard! And it’s great!’ And understanding that we’re not alone in feeling these things. We’re not alone in the sleepless nights, or the fatigue, the relationship stresses, the financial problems. But also, that we’re not alone in experiencing all the amazing emotions, too.”
This is an extract from our book – The Father Hood: Inspiration For The New Dad Generation. Buy it here