When I first came to England, I thought it was fairly common for fathers to be the stay-at-home parent. A visit to our local community toddler group soon corrected that misconception.
But before I talk about that, I’d like to say that in my short experience as a stay-at-home dad, I’ve found that the expression ‘stay-at-home’ does little to capture what it actually involves. For starters, it seems no-one really stays at home. From start to end of day, the city streets and shops are crawling with buggies, strollers and scooters as babies and toddlers are towed sleeping, screaming, feeding or non-stop talking from one place to the next.
‘No, thank you Daddy.’
Also, the idea that one ‘stays’ at home gives the impression of joyful, leisurely days spent in an easy chair while your toddler flips quietly through their favourite book. The reality looks more like simultaneously preparing their next meal, tidying up the kitchen and trying to find another activity for them to do as you know that the decibels of that now sweet voice will increase if you don’t. All of this, while you worry about the smell in the air, quietly hoping it’s just air and then painstakingly presenting the toddlers snack in a way as not to hear the discouraging, ‘No, thank you Daddy.’
Looking after a baby full-time is not something I foresaw for myself. I don’t think I despised it or anything like that; it just wasn’t an ambition of mine. But when the rare opportunity arose for my wife to work and study in Newcastle for a year, we decided I would take a sabbatical and step into this vital and privileged role and keep our family together.
I’ve gained a new respect and admiration for moms worldwide
Now about the toddler group.. Nothing had prepared me for it. It’s one of those things I soon realised I just had to go into with a plastered smile, psyching myself up with reminders about how good it is for my daughter’s social development. At my first session, I had Otis and Bobby for male company – both of them less than 3yrs old. I soon realised they knew nothing about last night’s game so I put on my most unassuming face and walked over to the moms.
There were basically 2 types of moms here. Those who smiled at my girl while their eyes failed to disguise their questions to me – why are you here and when are you leaving? Then the ones who complimented my girl on her good looks and tried very hard to overcompensate for any perceived rudeness from group 1, constantly antagonising my efforts to just fade into the background. We’ve moved on since those first sessions and are getting on well now.
Looking back on the year, I don’t regret it. My princess and I have formed a precious bond that money can’t buy. I’ve also gained a new respect and admiration for moms worldwide who do this without any of the special encouragement and compliments that I’ve received.
By Zulu Dube
Photo credit: Neda Jaimand