My first interview for this series couldn’t have been with a nicer guy. Bruce, a father of two vivacious girls, immediately made me welcome in their narrow Newtown terrace. As well as introducing me to his daughters, Ayesha and Rhani, I was immediately brought into the fold, meeting his partner, Cath, and some of their other friends and family members.
The ease and candidness with which Bruce spoke of his experiences of being father of two, a business owner and a loving partner (in no particular order), gave me further encouragement to persist and find out even more stories from other dads.
Jules: How did it come about that you became the primary carer? What brought you to this arrangement?
Bruce: I think your parents have a huge impact on how you parent and my dad was around a lot when I was growing up. Both mum and dad worked as academics… and so my dad often did more of the parenting ‘stuff’ than my mum did. It’s not that you’re doing something different it’s more like you’re carrying on the possibility. And in the case of me and Cath… she’s one of those people that love their work and loves to work so it sort of seemed natural that I would be the person.
J: So it was an easy decision?
B: Yes. In some ways it wasn’t a decision. You rearrange your life and it’s a bit of an experiment. There are times when you think this isn’t working and other times when you think, ‘Yeah, this is all working pretty well’. And then you fall into the trap thinking it’s all smooth sailing and then something changes, like another kid comes along and you’ve got to go and re-adjust it all.
J: A second child brings a whole new dimension. On the whole, do you feel that the role is more a challenge or more a reward?
B: It’s just reward, it’s a lot of fun to be honest. The thing I really love about it is that I just get to hang out and just do stuff with the kids that they want to do.
There’s the aspect of kids that involves a lot of play and adventure and you get to do that and you’ve got a great excuse for doing that.
There are times when it’s challenging but you tend to forget about them and you just think about the rewards of it.
J: In the end it’s the rewards that stick with you, the challenges just come and go. Nothing compares to witnessing your child make a developmental ‘leap’ of some kind, especially when you least expect it.
B: Yeah, yeah, they’re always surprising you.
J: Were there any particular challenges that stood out during the earlier years?
B: Let me think. You know the greatest challenge… that’s a good question you know. It wasn’t one particular challenge it was a combination of everything. (Ayesha, Bruce’s daughter joins us outside)
The real challenge was having too many competing demands. You know that it’s over the top—you’re very conscious of it. But you also know that you have a business that’s growing and that’s moving in the right direction.
J: That must be really challenging because you have a business that’s crying out for your attention and you have your kids also crying out for your attention.
B: Yeah, because a business in a way is very similar to a child. We can actually talk about GoGet in ‘stages’. When it’s an adolescent—you know when it’s a rebelling teenager—and now it’s in a stage as if it were in its early twenties. That’s how we talk about it. The resources, how it acts, its demands on you, it’s all very similar to a child. If you ask me whether I’d recommend having a business and a small child at the same time; well, in life you can’t perfectly time everything. Things just happen when they happen.
J: I love how people try and time the perfect moment to have a baby.
B: Yeah, we never tried to plan anything—it just happened when it happened. It’s really a day-by-day thing, you’ve just got to try and make it work. There are days when it just doesn’t work and there are other days when you actually manage to pull it off.
J: How has the swapping of your roles impacted you and Cath’s relationship? Has it strengthened it or strained it?
B: I think it makes you grow stronger in terms of the relationship because… we actually talk about this a lot. You can have a relationship where the roles are very defined, whether one or the other is the sole breadwinner and the other one is the sole… you know it’s like somebody is solely in charge of the work and someone is solely in charge of the domestic sphere. There’s no debating as to who’s responsible for cooking a meal or cleaning… that’s somebody’s job and this is somebody else’s job.
Sometimes we talk about how that would be so simple and so easily delineated. But actually it’s not honest or true of our relationship. We don’t see each other in such black and white roles. There’s actually tons more engagement, more communication and more negotiation. It can be tiring especially when you’ve got younger kids—it’s hard.
J: So there’s a lot more engagement than if it were to be a more traditional-style arrangement, where the man disappears…
B: …to bring home the bacon, that’s right, and assumes that everything on the domestic front is being micro-managed. [Laughs] But we have the opposite of that.
We don’t have the micro-management we just try and do what we can do and respect each other’s work. In that sense I think it’s new territory because you don’t have a lot of role models.
J: So it strengthened the relationship?
B: Easily. And I think for the kids it gives them much more of an insight into… they don’t have that mum/dad stuff—mum does this and dad does that. It’s really mixed up for them.
J: Would you ever talk to anyone about what you’re going through? Have you ever sought help during those times from a group or another individual?
B: No, it never really got to that point of need for help. It was more that… no, you just go day-by-day and you get through it.
J: As more and more women receive higher paying salaries than their partners and are becoming more career driven it seems a natural course of events for there to be more dads being the primary carers. Do you know of many other stay-at-home dads? Do you think we’re a growing number?
B: Definitely. I know quite a few stay-at-home dads. I think the traditional roles of… the thing about living in Newtown is that it’s a creative hub, a knowledge and economic hub—without trying to sound too ‘wanky’ about it. It’s a place where the jobs are more flexible and fluid. It’s very different, to say, someone who’s working in an accountants’ or law firm, or even as a surgeon.
You get a lot of people complaining about the flexibility of that modern life, because with flexibilty comes complexity, but people are just taking options. I see friends who take a year off and then the other person takes a year off. People are much more flexible around work now.
J: And this leads on to the notion that there’s a gulf in public perceptions about stay-at-home dads. I think that there’s a certain lack of understanding in the broader community. To give you an example, late last year the Daily Telegraph ran a story about opposition leader, Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme only being able to pay out the equivalent of the mother’s wage for any stay-at-home dads. In my book that’s not just or fair, it shows there’s a divide.
Do you think that society undervalues the role that men can play at home?
B: You know what I think it is?
By undervaluing the role that men can play at home society undervalues the role that women can play in the workplace.
Two sides to the same coin.
You look at the investment it takes to educate someone. My partner, Cath, is a really good example. She’s an academic at Macquarie Uni and the federal government might have spent up to half a million dollars educating her because she’s got a PhD. If you’re not supporting men, supporting women, then… it’s crazy… on an economic level, a social level, a community level.
One of the biggest things of all, is that having two daughters, they should grow up with a mother that can work full-time. I think it’s critical that they can see they have a choice.
J: Did you ever attend a fathers’ group? Did you know of any?
B: I didn’t know of any. Staying in Newtown you’d see a lot of other stay-at-home dads but you’d never stop and talk. You’d… (Bruce hesitates)… there’s a sort-of-code. I’m not quite sure why we don’t stop and talk, it doesn’t seem… a bunch of dads talking about being stay-at-home dads, there’s something about it that doesn’t quite click. You see the mums doing it and it just drives you mad.
At the end of the day it’s pretty banal. You can only really talk about nappies, what they eat and when they poo, for so long.
J: What do your kids say about you looking after them? Are they aware that their family operates somewhat differently to others?
B: I’m not sure. I reckon they think this is normal. I think they might look back at it in twenty years and think it was different. But I don’t think they will for the moment because it’s their lived experience. I don’t think they understand—it’s just normal for them.
J: Do you think this shift in gender roles is a good thing? Or do you think it’s potentially damaging to either yourself or your kids?
B: I guess that I saw the way that my dad fathered my sister. She was brought up thinking that she could do anything that she wanted. There was no boxing her in, in the gender sense. And so I’m building on that with my girls and making it even moreso. It all comes down to the simple thing of tapping into the amazing talents and abilities of our young girls. Basically you just want to give them everything you can.
J: What effect do you think your decision will have on your kids long-term role modelling? Do you think your children might differ from those who have the traditional female role model at all times?
B: No idea—that’s a really good question. I think…
J: Well, you’ve been through it…
B: I’ve been through it. I know for me it’s quite profound.
Profound because you grow up with a sense that I can parent how I want to parent and I can do some really fun and different things. So you don’t really have that little box around what you can and can’t do.
And I’ve really had a lot of fun doing stuff with the girls.
You start out on a limb and then see how much further you can go.
J: Some days I’d go a bit stir crazy. The sense of emasculation was too much. It’d be 5 o’clock and I’d be standing at the sink doing the dishes with a load of laundry on, a screaming child at my feet and dinner on the stove and I’d just want to run away from it all. Fly off to the pub, catch up with mates, drink beer, watch the rugby and maybe even want to get into a fight.
Has the sense of being emasculated ever been an issue?
B: No, it’s been a bit of a joke really. I don’t see it as emasculation because emasculation is too stereotyped on male/female roles. You know what it is? At the end of the day you’re just ‘serving’; serving your kids essentially. Whether you’re a male or a female that serving your kids is quite selfless. And there’s times when you think, “Oh my God, this is too much”, and you’re exhausted from it but you never really lose that sense of what an honour it is to do that.
J: That’s a great way of thinking about it. Can you tell me a story that will stay with you in the years to come about being a stay-at-home dad?
B: Oh, I’ve got heaps of stories…
J: Just one… pick one…
B: One of the things that I wanted to do—I had this idea because we were living in the inner-city and didn’t have a lot of room—that I wanted to use wheelie-bins as spa baths in winter. You’d get the big recycling wheelie-bin, empty it out, fill it with water and whack one of those spa kits in. Out in the backyard in winter.
We’d been talking about it for ages and suddenly the council delivered a brand new bin—clean! I though this was fantastic. I grabbed the hose and started filling it up and the kids just wanted to get straight in. So we had the kids in the wheelie bin and I basically just started pulling them around the house which they just thought was fantastic. And they stayed in there for hours. In the end we were making dinner and cleaning up—they were still in there—and we started throwing recycling into the bin. So, stuff like that was just good fun.
Oh… and Rani, the younger one, I used to get so frustrated at how messily she ate. Food she’d eat would explode in every direction. She was just amazing. I just decided one day that she was like a pig. I’ve probably offended pigs out there. For lunch one day I went and got her bathtub, stripped her off and whacked her in it. I then just dropped the baked beans out of a can straight into the tub. And she just just shovelled the baked beans straight into her mouth from the bottom of the bath tub—or trough. When she was done I put her in the shower and hosed the bathtub out.
J: Maybe we should turn this into a ‘how-to’ guide… [Both laugh]
B: I was really happy with myself! It was the only meal she’d ever really eaten without making a big mess.
J: Dads… take note!Tweet