The popular image of the modern, hands-on father might have to be scrapped. The idea that men are cutting back on work to help their partners with childcare is a myth, according to a provocative new book that presents stark evidence illustrating the British male's reluctance to step back from his job.
Although more mothers of young children have returned to the workplace compared to a decade ago, the gap has been filled not by their partners but by nurseries, carers, grandparents and other relatives.
About 6,000 more men are looking after babies and toddlers full-time compared to 10 years ago, the analysis of official statistics shows, while there are 44,000 fewer stay-at-home mums dedicated solely to childcare.
The notion that dads are opting to replace mothers in huge numbers is "a fallacy", according to Gideon Burrows, author of Men Can Do It! The Real Reason Dads Don't Do Childcare and What Men and Women Should Do About It, to be published next week.
The book, which has been described as a "wake-up call for all new parents", also examines the barriers to equal parenting, including poor paternity pay, non-flexible jobs, public services geared towards mothers, workplace prejudice and social conventions. But Burrows concludes that the biggest obstacle is men themselves: "They don't really want to do it."
He told The Independent on Sunday: "The sad truth is that we don't really want to do childcare. It's lovely, but it's also boring, disgusting, unrewarding and tedious and entails career, financial and life sacrifices that we're just not willing to take. It is hard to swim against the tide of convention, but if we really wanted to do it, we would go ahead. We don't."
Men talk about how much they want to spend time with their children, but then do nothing about it, according to the book. One in three do not take their statutory paternity leave and, at weekends, fathers spend far less time with their children than their partners do. A third do not change nappies or bathe their babies, Burrows found.
Yet the father of two is an exception. He decided to split childcare equally with his wife, Sarah, shortly after their first daughter was born. They now each spend two-and-a-half days looking after their two children, Erin, five, and Reid, three. They dedicate the rest of their time to their careers.
Burrows, 36, decided to cut back on his own work after he saw his wife's career as a producer on BBC's Panorama "turned on its head" after she gave birth to their first child. "I realised the immense injustice women were facing in the home and the workplace because men weren't willing to do childcare," he said.
He decided to write Men Can Do It! last year after being diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour. "The diagnosis finally forced me to get down on paper the thoughts that had been circulating in my mind ever since my first child was born," he said. "I knew this might be one of the last chances."
The book documents his quest for equality – from being a "freakish exception" at the school gates, at mother-toddler meetings and after-school parties – to his invention of "extreme breastfeeding": on his wife's nights off, he would place their baby on her breast so as to try not to wake her.
He calls for a "man manifesto" and a "new idea of what it means to be a father". He is the first to admit there are sacrifices, but he sees no alternative.
"For women to gain, men have to willingly accept a loss," he said. "A level playing field at home and at work will not just occur naturally, and it's very unlikely to happen through legislation alone."
He stresses that he and his wife are not some "sort of yoghurt-weaving, out-there, new age" people. "We're just ordinary people who have made specific choices because of our commitment to each other."
As for his diagnosis, he said, it reminded him how lucky he was to have been an equal parent from the start of his children's lives. "We all think the worst will never happen to us, then suddenly it does. I feel incredibly fortunate to look back on my family life and to see that I've squeezed it for everything that it was worth, even if it meant making sacrifices to my career, my income and my ambitions."
He does not know how long he has yet to live, although average life expectancy is five to eight years. "With my particular condition, there are no absolutes," he said. "[But] I never think I'm going to miss seeing my kids growing up. Sitting there playing Play-Doh with them feels to me like one of the most valuable ways to spend my life. If I had only one week left, I'd spend it doing that."
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