When Dad's left holding the baby

A Family Affair

Actor Owen Whittaker met Lucinda Edmonds when they played the couple in a DIY commercial. When acting work dried up, they got into terrible debt. The bank was about to foreclose when Lucinda landed a three-novel deal. Soon afterwards she discovered she was pregnant, and they decided Owen should look after the baby. His novel about the experience, The House Husband, is published this week by Orion.

Owen

I was a professional actor before I was a writer, and I had a fairly high profile - I was commercials king. But by the time Harry was born, in the early 1990s, the recession was upon us and the work just dried up. It was an absolute financial disaster. I was in my mid-thirties by then, and I wasn't likely to be a high-flyer in any other employment. I was too old to be a tea boy, and I'm no good at other things - I'm no good if anyone wants their shelves put up, unless they want them at a jaunty angle. I got loads of jobs - at a photocopier company, financial services - I could always get the jobs because I was very good at interviews, I'm an actor after all. But I just didn't fit the format. It was totally soul destroying.

Lucinda was also an actress, and things had started to dip for her, so she started to do the proper job thing. Then she got very sick, and couldn't do anything. I gave her a pen and pad and said "Go on, write."

By the time she got a three-book deal with Simon & Schuster, nothing was happening for me work wise. Harry was born about this time, and automatically I started looking after the baby. After all, she was working, and nobody was paying me.

Looking after the children made me feel useful again. But no matter how educated we are, our instincts take over: I wanted to go out hunting, bring the food home. I felt that I wasn't getting stimulus, my pride and self-esteem were low, but at the same time I was seeing my child take his first steps.

I thought it would be a solution, but I didn't realise it would be such a long time. It got bleaker. I wanted to get out there and have a career for myself, I wanted to buy my wife presents. I felt very inadequate. A lot of the time Lucinda was working at home. No one looks after a child like its mother; she would notice mistakes I made, and it was infuriating. She still points out my mistakes, and I make a joke of it, but I was a bit sensitive at the time and didn't find it quite so funny.

When Isabella was born, I was handed the new baby. It's hard for a mother to hand over a baby, but there were deadlines to meet. So I was the one who had to drag my butt out of bed in the middle of the night to pick up the screaming baby.

My in-laws were not happy that their son-in-law was not keeping their daughter. That's always been a bit touchy. Friends were a major problem. I didn't exactly announce it, but men would not get to grips with the idea: you are judged as a man by what you do, and then by what you earn. That was always a real problem for me. A lot of women wanted to know why you weren't out there working. At Tumble Tots and playgroups I was the odd one out: when females gather together, they like to have a pop at us chaps.

I had a lack of self-respect, not because I was playing with the kids or running the hoover around, but because I wasn't out there providing. It affects the nightly bun fight in the bedroom. I just didn't feel like much of a man.

We were never going to be the kind of parents who hired a nanny, but I didn't imagine it would be me who looked after them, or quite so long- term. It's not an experience I would have missed out on. But I don't know whether my pride would have let me carry on doing that forever.

She had to take the children to London for 10 days, and she encouraged me to start writing. In those 10 days, I wrote the first half of the first draft of my book.

Lucinda

I found out I was pregnant two hours before the launch of my first book. I went to the party in shock: it had happened much sooner than we thought. It was unfortunate timing. I had just been given this lucrative publishing deal, and Owen wasn't working.

Owen took a part-time Christmas job at Dillons, earning peanuts. When I met him he was an extremely talented actor, and selling copiers or working behind the desk at Dillons made him feel worse. I realised it would be better for him not to do it, when he could be at home and mind his child and his pride.

After Harry was born I was rushing around doing PR for the book. Initially I was relieved I wouldn't have to leave the baby with a stranger. I was very happy it was my husband, but I had always felt I wanted to be the primary carer. Looking at Owen dropping me off at the station with Harry in his seat in the back, I used to feel a little bit of envy.

There was one time when I was still breast-feeding and I had to go to a GMTV award lunch. After a while I phoned Owen and said "Please put the baby in the car and bring him here, I am about to die." I tell you it was better than sex.

I grew to trust him. Yes, I used to criticise him, still do. You still feel you do it better. In the early days, he'd put a baby grow on the wrong way round. Actually, today he put Isabella's dress on back to front. Domestically Owen was a disaster. He could not cook. But he was always wonderfully nurturing and loving.

It was a problem telling people. To me it's the same if my husband is starring on the West End stage or wiping my baby's bottom, but it made a difference to other people. My career took off at the moment Owen was subjugated, which made the contrast more stark. People would ring up and ask "Is that Mr Edmonds?" I hated it as well. I never said he was a house husband, I always said he's resting at the moment, he's caring for Harry.

With baby sick all down him and rubber gloves on he wasn't exactly Richard Gere. The males I'd meet were successful and smart, and I'd go home and there was my Owen with a baby in his arms. A man caring for a baby is extremely sexy, especially when he'd get up in the night and I didn't have to. Other mothers would be all flirty with him.

We did hibernate socially. When things aren't right in your house you can't face the world. Sometimes I'd say "Let's go out for dinner and put on a suit so you look like you're happy and successful."

Last year, I was thinking is it ever going to get better? I worried a lot about him being unfulfilled. We were so depressed, we had ground to a halt. The book had gone out, and we just thought it's never going to happen. We were at rock bottom, completely broke. That's when Owen got the phone call to say his book had been sold.

He didn't say anything for 24 hours. I was so ecstatic, while Owen just wandered around exactly as he had for the last six years. I don't think he believed it was over.

Maybe if we hadn't had children he would have had the time to get going sooner. There was never time for him to do what he wanted to do.

Interviews by Clare Longrigg

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