Platform: Time to let men become real dads

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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TIME to let men become real dads with a shift away from the macho culture of ‘presenteeism’ in Scotland’s workplaces, writes Nick Thorpe

‘Why are you still here?” barked my boss at 6:45pm one memorable evening, early in my journalistic career. It was a blunt question, and a good one. In truth, I had finished my story, and was busying myself with a few non-essential loose ends, hoping – like several colleagues – that my long hours would mark me out as ambitious and committed.

My news editor, a family man, was having none of it. “Go home,” he told us all, logging off his terminal. “Haven’t you got lives outside this place?” Nearly 20 years on, I remain grateful to that man. As a father myself, and one of the organisers of Scotland’s Year of the Dad, I know the immense pressure there is on men to prioritise work over family.

If you doubt this, ask yourself: how easy would you find it to ask your employer for shared parental leave – now possible under legislation introduced last year – or even just permission to leave early one afternoon to attend your child’s sports day? Our research shows while mums are waved through under the sexist assumption they will be primary carer, modern Scottish dads still fear any request for child-related flexi or leave will affect their career.

Men have even reported inventing medical appointments rather than admitting they were leaving work to pick up their children.

Year of the Dad needs everyone on board – dads, mums, employers and services – to help Scottish society catch up with a profound shift in culture over the last few decades and promote true gender equality for all.

While research overwhelmingly shows that children, women and families all benefit from the positive involvement of fathers right from the start, forward-thinking organisations are also discovering that valuing and supporting dads has marked business benefits too. Like many parents, my working efficiency increased hugely when I became a dad, fitting more jobs into less time in order to fit in after the school run or before football practice.

A recent paper by John Pencavel of Stanford University shows how reducing our hours of work can be good for productivity.

Yet we persist in measuring virility in hours spent on the job, when the truth is that we’re squandering money as well as family time. Changing this culture will benefit everyone.

• Nick Thorpe is head of communications for the charity Fathers Network Scotland.