Two men walk into a bar.
(I promise there are no horses, Irishmen or priests in this anecdote.)
One turns to the other and says, “I heard Dave’s gone back to work. Can you believe it? His kid’s only three months old!”
“Yep. Shocking. What’s more important: your kid or your job? That’s why I decided to stay at home. A child needs his father.”
Of course, this conversation never happened.
Because men don’t have ‘daddy wars’ in the same way women have ‘mummy wars’.
Part of this is due to critical mass: In Australia, only one per cent of fathers stay at home.
Traditionally, men have earned more from selling their labour.
But with women making up 64 per cent of university graduates, the times they are a-changin’.
Let’s hope this new debate doesn’t devolve into mano a mano. In parenting pugilism, there are no winners.
The most recent example is the battle between Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen and the wife of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Ms. Rosen said Ann Romney had no right to advise her husband on economic issues because she’d “never worked a day in her life”.
In response, Ms. Romney tweeted, “I made a choice to stay at home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work”.
Mitt Romney’s subsequent comment, “All moms are working moms”, opened up a class war.
In January, he said women on welfare needed to get jobs even if they had young children.
It seems the only mothers who are allowed to stay at home are rich ones.
The fallout from all of this is disappointingly predictable.
The stay-at-home mums are fighting for their turf; the working mums, theirs.
It feeds into the cliché of women always ready to tear each other down.
Each side is presenting its own statistics, showing kids are better/worse off at home/in care.
But many families don’t have a choice about whether both parents work. They need to pay the bills.
For those who do have a choice, it’s simple.
If going to work makes you feel fulfilled, do it. If you’re more content staying at home, do that. And don’t feel guilty.
Kids are happy if they are loved – regardless of whether their caregivers work outside the home.
Which brings me to dads.
Many modern men yearn to be with their children, especially those whose own role models were workaholics.
You know those people who say, “A mother should be at home with her kids”? Well, what about fathers?
According to the Dad and Me report, commissioned by the charity Addaction, kids with absentee fathers are much more likely to engage in anti-social behaviour.
It makes sense for men to be involved with their children.
Unfortunately, the corporate world is struggling to keep up.
One friend, a working mother-of-two who earned more than her husband, was retrenched last year, while a male colleague was told he could keep his job because “he was the primary breadwinner in his family”.
Unfortunately, ‘daddy day care’ is still in its infancy.
There’s the occasional snide remark about how they couldn’t cut it in the workplace, have a bossy wife, or are effeminate.
As one friend says of her stay-at-home hubby, “He’s more of a man than some of those blokes will ever be”.
Take Wendy Harmer’s husband, Brendan.
“He’s there when the neighbourhood empties out of able-bodied men,” Wendy says. “He’s dressed an elderly neighbour’s leg wounds and cut his toenails; ferried mums and kids to casualty in emergencies; cut the lawns for single working mums; and helped out at the school on innumerable occasions.”
Another friend with a hands-on hubby puts it like this: “I can take off to an interstate conference at any time I like, or stay back at work because he’s there. In our house he’s not ‘doing me a favour’ by looking after the kids. That’s just how it is.”
So, in conversations in coffee shops and bars, let’s set some role models for the stay-at-home dads of the future.
Behind the war of words, all of us are trying to do the best for our children.
Frankly, we should just get on with it.