by Brian Russell
It was a beautiful, sunny day in July of 1997. My 8 month old daughter and I were out for a stroll along our street. She was sitting up in the stroller, watching everything happening around her. I was home with her for the summer while my wife went to work to ensure we could pay for this little thing we had created (and the others that were to come).* As we sauntered down the sidewalk, an elderly woman was walking towards us, and as is so often the case, she stopped and chatted at Jenna for a minute or two. Then she looked up at me and said “It is so good to see dad babysitting”.
What do I say?
Do I tell this woman I’m a full-time, at-home dad caring for all of my daughter’s needs? That I change her diapers, feed her, play with her, put her to bed, and collapse into my own bed at 9:00 hoping I’m ready to do it all over again the next day? Do I tell her that dads don’t baby-sit? That we are more than a part-time, fill-in, on-call, pay-by-the-hour carer of our own child?
I think I politely smiled and walked on.
That was over 20 years ago. And in my position now with Dad Central Ontario, I speak with many people about understanding and engaging fathers. One of the most consistent comments/complaints that people bring up is how dads are somehow connected with babysitting. We see this debate in articles even today. And there are even t-shirts men can get their hands on.
Why is it that the question still lingers in our consciousness? When will we be able to put the “dads don’t babysit” comment to rest? What will it take to focus on the things dads do, as opposed to what they don’t do?
The new paternity leave offered to dads in Canada is an opportunity to change this perception. Dads taking the 5 week “use-it-or-lose-it” leave will have ample opportunity to show the world that they are primary care-givers to their kids. They will have the chance to do the great things that dads do and do them in dads’ way. Kids will love this and benefit a tonne from the focused attention dads can give to them. Moms will benefit from sharing the load of parenting. Companies and businesses will benefit as men focused on parenting are more efficient employees.
Dads, let’s not let this leave go to waste. Show us all how you want it and will use it well. Show the world that dads do more than any baby-sitter ever could.