To glimpse the future of Scottish fatherhood, take a look at DAVID EARLY. Rejecting outdated gender roles like many in our annual survey, he's pushed hard to “dad up” his work and home life and take an equal responsibility in the nurture of his kids.
DAVID EARLY knows that cultural change can have sharp edges. Determined to be a hands-on dad right from the start, he found himself in an unexpected battle with his employer last year for requesting six weeks of leave around his daughter’s birth.
“I was totally astonished by the attitudes I encountered,” recalls the 31-year-old data manager, working at the time for a well-known public-sector employer. “Senior HR officials just didn’t know the regulations surrounding statutory or shared parental leave. They told me I should be happy with two weeks’ paternity leave – and that most men went back to work after one week!”
But David is one of a new generation of Scottish dad revealed in the 2017 Dads' Survey by Fathers Network Scotland – men no longer willing to allow outdated gender stereotypes to push them to the margins of their children’s lives.
FROM 'MAN UP' to 'DAD UP'
Like more than half of those responding to the annual survey, David takes at least 50 per cent of the childcare and housework, which he shares with his wife – a significant change from the generation he grew up in, when to “man up” meant to work long hours, repress the nurturing instinct and abdicate all domestic responsibilities to the women in the household.
Instead David chose to “dad up”: to ask for his right to leave and risk his promotion prospects pushing for the working conditions he knew would foster a better life for his children. Shared Parental Leave, allowing men to share up to 9 months of their partner’s maternity leave, has been on the statute books since 2015, but so far only 1 to 5 per cent of eligible dads are taking it.
David’s story shows one reason why the uptake hasn’t been higher: he had to seek arbitration through ACAS before his employers would concede that he was well within his rights to take 6 weeks leave. So it was hardly surprising that soon after his daughter’s birth he chose to move to a more father-friendly employer at Sport Scotland.
A WEIGHT LIFTED OFF
“After a lot of difficulties with my last employer, coming into this more positive environment was a huge weight lifted off,” says David, who now works compressed hours to fit his five-day week into four days, and also has the flexibility of working from home when required and agreed with his line manager.
Jo Dixon, Senior HR Business Partner at Sport Scotland, believes such flexibility is mutually beneficial, maintaining a motivated, loyal workforce.
She says: "We’re pleased that David is benefitting from Sport Scotland’s flexible working arrangements and recognise that all our colleagues have differing work preferences depending on what’s going on in their lives."
"Such arrangements certainly help our colleagues with young children and, if they are able to spend quality time together, we know there is strong evidence that active parents encourage their children to lead a healthy, active lifestyle which they are more likely to continue into adulthood.”
Reflecting on his experiences, David echoes an increasing body of research showing that attitudes like that of his previous employer are ultimately self-defeating, sending otherwise capable and motivated employees like him to more forward-thinking workplaces.
“When a recruitment agency contacted me about the new job I jumped at it,” he says now. “I don’t think I would have had much chance of promotion there after what I went through, and the way that I was treated, I wouldn’t even contemplate working for them again.”
FACING THE FATHERHOOD FORFEIT
Earlier this year research by Plymouth University identified a “fatherhood forfeit” still faced by dads when applying for part time work. Lead researcher Jasmine Kelland - a speaker at the #DadUp Launch event hosted by Lloyds banking Group – discovered that fathers who want to work reduced hours are perceived as suspicious and questions are raised about their commitment.
David Early’s experience backs up this evidence that many managers are still operating with an unconscious bias, and penalising men for seeking a work-life balance that would be considered normal with their female counterparts.
“I believe that mums are absolutely crucial too,” emphasises David, who shares childcare and housework with his wife, a primary school teacher who works part time. “Emma breast fed both our children and was very hands-on, but she also had no issues taking maternity leave and was very well supported by her employer.”
“So it’s a bit frustrating that when the government pulls its finger out and gives dads these rights, employers are still clueless about it. If you want the same level of involvement from fathers you need the same level of support.”
SIGNS OF CHANGE
That’s why he’s been so encouraged by the flexibility of his new employer – and by positive signs of change out in the community where dads are slowly being accepted as equally important in caring for their children. “Our local library do a Bookbugs session which we’ve been to for the past two and a half years and dads are always made welcome there.”
Like 34 per cent of the dads we surveyed, David makes it a priority to read to his children every day (64 per cent of dads do so either “most days” or “every day”). His determination to take on his responsibility in both the nurture of his children and the domestic duties is perhaps all the more remarkable given that he had no positive “father figure” in his life to serve as a role model.
His own father was estranged and absent from the family, and his mother became ill when he was only eight, leaving him as her main carer – and responsible for all household chores - until he was taken into foster care aged 13, shortly before she died.
“My mum was a nurse before getting sick, and she imparted her caring nature onto me,” he reflects now. “That experience, and the relationships and childhood I missed out on, probably all contribute to the way I parent my children now.”
PUSHING FOR WIN-WIN
He acknowledges that not all his male friends share his desire to fulfil a nurturing role in the home – but it’s clear that for David, the experience of being a dad to two-year-old Jonah and baby Jessica is a hugely rewarding one.
“I have a very strong bond with my children, they make me feel like the most special person in the world. I love everything about them both.”
By becoming the role-model that his own father wasn’t and pushing for the win-win of father-friendly employment, David embodies the spirit behind Fathers Network Scotland’s #DadUp campaign, launched this week.
We’re working with employers like Lloyds and Sport Scotland to shine a light on the culture change that will ultimately pay dividends in staff retention and employee well-being for those organisations who are ahead of the game.
David sympathises with men who fear that sticking their necks out will harm their career prospects – in fact, when his son was born two years earlier, he used accumulated annual leave to get five weeks off, rather than risk appearing less committed by asking for extended paternity leave.
But by the time of his wife’s second pregnancy, with Shared Parental Leave on the statute book, he was ready to stand up for his rights and he had seen the benefits to his family of being an involved dad. And he has sound advice to other men as they prepare to “Dad Up”.
“You need to know your facts, because still very few people do. If I hadn’t had that backing, I might have given up. But it’s all turned out for the best in the end.”
Find out more about our #DadUp campaign and join the cultural revolution! Help them Care; Give them Leave; Respect their Rights