My partner is a singer and an actor, so when our daughter was born, it made sense for him to stay at home in the daytime while I went back to work as a journalist. And as time went on, we fell into a pattern: I would work (sometimes from home), while he took care of our daughter.

The Perfect Father

The Perfect Father

The fact I was freelance meant I didn’t have to ‘go back’ to work in the same way as someone might if they weren’t self-employed, but even so, my partner took on the majority of the childcare, and it suited us really well. He was much better with her than I was anyway – and while I was on maternity leave, I’m not ashamed to say that I really missed working.

However, I did always feel that stereotypical mum-guilt as I holed myself up in my home office, listening to them chatting and playing downstairs. I found it hard to switch off, and preferred to be out of the house on my work days, where I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out, or abandoning her.

I didn’t think much about our situation. It was only as our daughter got older that I realised just how unusual it is, still, for a man to be the main childcare provider.

Little things stood out to me: like the fact that 95% of the people in our daughter’s class Whatsapp group were mums not dads. The fact that when he took her to have her vaccinations, the nurse casually asked if ‘mum was sick’. The fact he was the only dad sitting on a plastic chair at the back of the village hall, watching our daughter plié, during her weekly Baby Ballet class. The fact that nursery would always ring me first, even though I’d told them that my partner should be their first port of call if they ever needed to get in touch.

It was also the reactions that my partner got when he told people. ‘Oh, that’s very modern of you!’ they would say. Secretly, we felt judged. By then, my partner was working again anyway – as a singer, most of his work is in the evenings. But still, people would ask when he would be going back to work.

And I always wondered – if I had chosen to be a stay at home mum, would they have asked the same?

Recently, Rishi Sunak was lambasted for saying ‘we owe mums everywhere an enormous debt of thanks for doing the enormously difficult job of juggling childcare and work’ during the pandemic. Seemingly, he completely forgot that fathers have anything to do with their children at all (indeed, during lockdown, my partner has done at least 80% of the homeschooling).

It was this attitude – this surprise on people’s faces even in 2021, and the realisation that most of the couples we knew were parenting the traditional way – with the mother either going part-time, or giving up work completely – that led me to want to explore these old-fashioned prejudices in a novel.

And to create drama, I decided to set them against a man with no self-esteem, with an ego so fragile, and a failed career, to see how he would cope with the feeling that society was judging him, even while he desperately did his best as a father. So I created the character in my story, Robin, who is a stay-at-home dad, but who loves his daughter fiercely, and loves spending time with her.

I should add here that Robin is nothing like my partner! But I wanted to write about toxic masculinity, and how it affects men as well as women, and highlight just how far we still have to go to stop those looks of surprise when men say that they are taking on the primary caregiver role.

Because men are just as much parents as women, and it’s 2021, and attitudes need to change.

The Perfect Father is out on 18 February. You can find Charlotte on Twitter and Instagram and at her website.

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