Daddy Pig Isn’t Helping

It started just like any other morning of my blissful SAHD existence.

Me, tearing around the house in my #activewear, brandishing the hairbrush and spray bottle. Focker #2 with hair resembling the feral kid off Mad Max II, shrieking as she tried to avoid the dreaded brush. Focker #1 just standing there in the middle of the room, mesmerized by the television. Nude, except for one lonely looking sock on his foot.

As the opening bars from the Peppa Pig theme song tinkled from the television, we stopped to pay our daily homage. Focker #2 and I puffing and laughing. Focker #1 in his sock.

In this particular episode, Peppa Pig was being a pretentious brat (for a change), George was crying about his dinosaur (nothing unusual about that), and Daddy Pig was being lazy and inept (ditto). While the children go off to the fire station with Mummy Pig, Daddy Pig stays at home with his football mates to cook a barbeque. Unable to locate the tomato sauce, Daddy Pig calls the fire station emergency line to see if Mummy Pig can tell him where it is hidden – presumably because he’s too lazy or incompetent to actually go and look for it himself.  Mummy Pig and her fellow mummy firefighters share a laugh about how useless Daddy Pig and all of the other dads are before going back to the serious business of waiting for an emergency. The next thing you know, Daddy Pig is back on the phone, and the barbeque is on fire.  When the firefighting mums arrive, the dads are all standing around it with drinks in their hands, watching it burn.  The mums rush to put out the fire, before everyone shares a joke about how dads can’t be left to cook unsupervised or something like that.

It was during this latest display of Daddy Pig’s ineptness that it occurred to me. In a very long line of bumbling, incompetent (but loving) father figures on television, Daddy Pig is the latest, and by far the worst offender. Not because he’s any more of an idiot than some of the other TV dads that spring to mind. But because his audience is millions of kids as young as two years old. For a lot of these kids, he will be a key father figure as they start to form their own views of society and the world.

Now the portrayal of fathers by mainstream society as bumbling but well intentioned boofheads is the subject of a lot of social commentary – most of it by writers far more credentialed than I. But as Mamamia editor Holly Wainwright pointed out in her piece titled “Dads Aren’t Dumb,” if we want society to stop portraying dads as bumbling idiots, then us dads need to stop being bumbling idiots. Simple right? The problem is, as Wainwright so cleverly points out, is that it’s not always in our best interests to do so.

“There is a certain breed of father who has a vested interest in maintaining a façade of bumbling incompetence. After all, if you are rubbish at stuff, eventually people will stop asking you to do it.”

It’s so true. For example, how can a dad competently operate a lawnmower, but not a vacuum cleaner? After all, vacuuming is pretty much indoor mowing, and the same rules apply. Don’t miss any patches, don’t run over toys, pets or children, and empty the bag when you’re done. Simple.

Likewise, so many dads profess to not being capable enough to prepare a meal for their family. Yet if there’s some outdoor barbequing to be done, then suddenly they step up, tongs in one hand, beer in the other and produces a gourmet spread.

At this point you might want to lean in closer, because here’s where I risk the ire of my fellow dads and lift the lid on some highly classified, never heard before man secrets. We absolutely can operate a vacuum cleaner. Capably. Accurately. Efficiently. Equally, you’ll be shocked to the core to know that pretty much every man can cook indoors. Even those dads with zero cooking experience are competent enough to follow a simple recipe or instructional video on YouTube. They can even produce something edible at the end. After all, blokes are hard wired to follow systematic and sequential instructions, which is all that a recipe is at the end of the day. Furthermore, kitchen appliances that chop, slice, grind and heat are basically the power tools of the indoors. What guy wouldn’t want to play with a hand-held stick blender with rotating blades? Or better yet, one of those little blowtorch things that you see on MasterChef? Especially if he can still hold a beer while he’s doing it?

While we’re perfectly capable of doing these basic tasks, some of us just don’t want to. Because as we all know, cooking and vacuuming are the ‘gateway drugs’ of domestic chores. It all starts with a humble lasagna and one simple lap around the living room with the Dyson. Before you know it, your partner will be asking you to steam mop the grout in the bathroom tiles and churn out a croquembouche for a school cake stall. It’s a very slippery slope.

All sarcasm aside, I think that it’s really f*cking sad that there are dads out there who are happy to be thought of as incompetent by their partners and children. All because that way they can avoid having to help out around the house, and can spend their leisure time lying on the couch instead. How do we expect the role of dadding to be treated with any respect by others when we don’t have the respect for our families to man up, get off the couch and do a few f*cking domestic chores once in a while? This is where Daddy Pig and other TV dads let us down. In the 200 odd episodes of Peppa Pig, and believe me I’ve seen most of them, I’ve yet to see him demonstrate any level of competence on the domestic front. This is despite him being a structural engineer (or possibly an architect), world record holder for jumping in muddy puddles, and an otherwise loving father. Given his capabilities in other areas, you really have to wonder if Daddy Pig is “maintaining a façade of bumbling incompetence” as Wainwright suggests, or is he just in fact a dick?

With that in mind, I’d encourage all of the masquerading dads out there to drop the façade. Surprise your partner by picking up the vacuum cleaner and mowing the carpets. Maybe whip up a cheeky omelette or a batch of cookies (using at least one kitchen appliance with motorized blades of course). Most importantly, let your kids see you doing it so that they know that dad is just as capable as mum at all things domestic.

While you’re doing that, I’m off to find some pants for Focker #1 and finish taming Focker #2’s crazy hair. Then I might have a crack at throwing together a quick croquembouche.  After all, how hard can it be?


Flourishing, or just coping? How I came to be a SAHD

My favourite contemporary Australian author, Peter FitzSimons, recently gave a very honest and raw interview with Mia Freedman on her podcast No Filter. A big part of the interview explores his relationship with his wife – journalist and TV personality Lisa Wilkinson – and the challenges for couples and families in juggling two busy and successful careers. What really stood out for me was the explanation FitzSimons gave to his employers to justify his decision to quit his breakfast radio gig with 2UE.  It was a job that he loved.  But he quit, so that his wife could focus fully on her “opportunity of a lifetime” in breakfast television.

As he so succinctly stated, “We have discovered that a family can cope with having two parents out of bed at 3:30(am) but it cannot flourish. And we as a family…..through no fault of our kids, were coping, but not flourishing.”

“Coping, but not flourishing.”

FitzSimons’s words resonated with me. It summed up perfectly how Mrs D-E-D and I jointly reached the decision late last year for me to step away from a promising and lucrative career to be at home with our children. With both of us working full time, we were coping. Just. But we, as a family, sure as hell weren’t flourishing. We were merely going through the motions, surviving day to day, week to week, and trying to avoid any major catastrophes along the way.

You see, up until the beginning of this year we were ‘domestic outsourcers’ which simply isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. As anyone who works in people management will testify, having more people to assist you doesn’t necessarily mean less stress. There are still the planning, organising, delegating and negotiating aspects of running a team of people that you need to manage. The same applied to us. Even with the outsourcing, our lives were still one big juggling act. We constantly rushed from one thing to the next, planning, organising and delegating. Perhaps, most significantly, too much of our time was spent negotiating with each other on a daily basis to determine who was responsible for which domestic duties. All the while, our kids sat by – spectators to the madness.

Towards the end of last year, within a period of a few short weeks, the winds of change started to blow. Firstly, Mrs D-E-D got offered an opportunity to further advance her career in a new and challenging role. A role that would require even more of her time and energy than the not-inconsiderable amount that she was already giving. At around the same time I also realised something had to give with my own career, which was becoming more and more demanding. This triggered a seismic shift in my perspective on my work/life balance.

We had started to notice that Focker #1 was coping but certainly not flourishing in his first year at school. We realised that he needed some extra assistance with some of the reading and writing basics if he was to realise his full potential. Our time with him was so limited and precious that the last thing we wanted to be doing was spending it practicing his handwriting. Not when there was so much other fun stuff to do.

Focker #2 was also growing up fast, and like her brother, needed more quality time with her parents if she was going to grow up to be a civilised human and not pursue a life of violence and crime. The jury is still out on that one.

The final straw for me came late last year when I attended Focker #1’s end of year celebration at kindergarten, which included a dance routine and a skipping display. When it came to Focker #1’s turn to show off his skipping prowess, our beloved nanny, who was standing beside me for the show, whispered to me, “he’d better get this right because we’ve been practicing this every day for the last 6 weeks!”

I was shocked. I had no idea that he had even been learning how to skip, and even less idea that our nanny had been putting in dedicated practice sessions with him after school every day. While I’m pleased to report that he skipped like a boss that day, sadly it had nothing to do with me. This might seem like a minor thing to many, but at that moment I felt like a complete failure as a parent. We had outsourced our son’s f*cking skipping lessons. And just like that the decision was made to change our entire approach. No regrets. No second thoughts.

This SAHDing decision isn’t a realistic option for everyone. I know we are very lucky to be in a position to be able to make it. It’s too early yet to know whether our family is now flourishing with me at home, but I think Mrs D-E-D and I agree that we’re definitely in a better place than we were a few months ago. My skipping is also really coming along nicely now that I’m around to practice with my son every single day. Next goal – keeping Focker #2 out of jail.