Since E’s been born I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad; wondering mainly what kind of a grandfather he’d have made. He died when I was 19 and he was never a hands-on dad; he was pretty old fashioned and my mum had to do all the practical stuff. The things S has been doing with me – nappy changing, bathing, helping with meals and clearing up etc – would never have occurred to him. I have no idea what my relationship with him would be like now (though I know we’d have had massive disagreements about politics) but more interesting than trying to second guess that is the grandfather stuff. I wonder if he’d find it easier being a grandfather than a dad? He was a man for the grand gesture – the trip to the zoo instead of an Easter egg, buying books for a reading list, immersing himself in university prospectuses and visiting campuses with me – rather than doing things like playing in the garden or reading a bedtime story. So perhaps a bit of distance would allow him to have come into his own and do things like that in a “grand grandpa” kind of way.
Dads have also been on my mind as S has been around with us these two weeks and I don’t know what I’ve have done without him. He has gone back to work this weekend and, although my mum is visiting so I haven’t been alone all day with E yet, it’s not the same.
I think I’m probably very lucky. I felt this all the more this week as I watched S make an appointment for us to register E and get her birth certificate. I realise that for many women, there is no S, or their partner has had to go straight back to work and so the system is perhaps set up to favour mothers, but it does seem that the registration process, like other aspects of parenting, is geared too far away from dads.
You don’t both need to go and register the birth (though we did) but if you aren’t married the only way the dad will get on the birth certificate is if they go in with the mum. And even if you are married, we found that basic customer service seems to be lacking. S telephoned to make an appointment. They asked for my name and E’s name but, despite talking to him, didn’t ask for his name. S wasn’t bothered but it struck me as rude and potentially isolating.
Child benefit is another area where it’s geared towards mums. They encourage you to apply in the name of the person who makes less money as they may be able to claim extra tax credits. Leaving aside the fact that seems a complicated way to run a universal welfare system, surely this is also geared towards women as we’re often paid less and more likely to work part time? And this is often because we’re already encouraging that situation by not having a more equal system of paternity leave. As it happens, I work full time and S works part time at the moment, so we’re not in this situation but still…
Feminism is often misrepresented as being pro-women to the point of excluding men. This is not the case. We can only get equality for both sexes if we try and solve problems for the benefit of both sexes. This needs to range from big things like a flexible system of paternity/ parental leave to small things like basic customer service when registering a child. Dads rock. At least E’s does. And we all need as much help as we can get to feel appreciated.