This is what it’s like for most blokes in any ‘parent and child group’, although most of them are labelled ‘mother and baby’ for the reasons below …
“I think this one’s going to be a chuffing pole dancer,” groaned the very pregnant lady on the seat next to mine.
“What, like your husband?” I wish I’d said. She would have probably thought that was really funny. Probably.
Her unborn baby had just executed a perfect 10.0 front swing with half turn to dismount on top of the lady’s bladder. To say she looked uncomfortable would have been an understatement akin to describing Claudia Winkleman as ‘gently sun kissed’. She had told me that she was already the mother of a child with special needs, and you could clearly detect the tension in her eyes as she contemplated the possible arrival of another.
“HE can’t deal with any of this stuff,” said the pregnant lady, leaning heavily on the word ‘he’ in a way that suggested she felt she might not feel so free to do with her partner.
I remember thinking at the time that this was the exact opposite of what any man that I knew would ever want to be said about them in their absence.
But I could also totally understand why her partner wasn’t there at that moment. Emotionally, it’s a lot easier.
Of course, there is the very real difficulty of asking managers for time off work to attend these things – although it is your legal right to do so. Or the pure unadulterated arse ache of scheduling intractable health appointments against childcare or professional commitments.
But, to be honest, that’s something that can usually get sorted out with a little effort and, more importantly, the will. You see I think the real reason men don’t attend a lot of these meetings has nothing to do with work or childcare, and has an awful lot to do with them fearing becoming ‘emotionally incontinent’ in a public setting.
We’re not used to it you see. Men emerge from the womb fully cognisant that a fart is a very funny thing, and that pretty much any activity worth doing will be seriously improved by us being put in charge of it. But the whole emotional intelligence thing….
Women are experienced in giving over to their feelings. These days, there are entire TV channels seemingly devoted to cajoling otherwise intelligent, capable, and robust women into crying buckets over the failure of their buttercream icing, or the fate of mutton-chopped ancestors.
We just don’t like to do public feels. We prefer the emotionally neutral environment of ‘Dave’, and the (not at all homoerotic apparently) companionship of fat men cheering on impossibly fit young foreign men in tight shorts from draughty terraces. Occasionally we might become quietly choked at the end of movies where pets die, or men do ‘the right thing’ at great personal cost. We have heard how eviscerating and poignant that scene in the Pixar movie ‘Up’ is, and that’s why we are never going to watch it. Not ever.
A similar thing happens when any first child is born. Mums begin to question, at first gently (and then really not very gently at all) just exactly why the washing up needs to be done, the lawn needs to be mowed, or the dog needs its oil changing at that exact time of day when the children are awake and at their most demanding?
The simple answer is a lot of men feel hopelessly unequipped for the task of surrendering to their own tenderness. Most do realise that they absolutely, definitely need to contribute. So they revert to ‘man tasks’ rather than just spending some quiet time letting their wife snore gently against their shoulder while they pull faces at a delighted child, or attend necessary, often difficult bemoaning sessions with care professionals.
I mean when was the last time you overheard a conversation between two men that went along these lines?
Gav: “Cor larst night! Bouncing ‘im on me knee, got three smiles, two giggles and a fart. Bish, bash, bosh! Result!”
Ganymede: “That’s nothing old chap! La dernier nuit, j’ai executé un full nappy change avec beaucoup de crap, AND she peed in my eye. Then bath, breast, burp, ‘Slinky Malinky’ and bed. Bichon, Bosche, Bose. Sweet as a macadamia!”
Makes one wonder sometimes if male pride in any activity always requires the presence of floodlights, pies, and sulky foreign blokes in tight shorts?
The odd thing is that on those few occasions when I’m not the only gonad juggler in the room, the meetings are better. Turns out there’s a reason why we have men and women in the world – sometimes we need both skillsets to get even the most basic tasks done. When partners are together in the room, they exchange glances, smile, joke, share. When they’re not … well sometimes the empathy can smother the energy.
These days very few of us need to fight off killer sharks, angry Impies, or devilish Nazis. But many more of us are having to fight for basic rights in the protection and nurture of the people we care for.
So come on guys, be a man about it. Turn up, care. But, just for the record, I’m doing a much better job of it than you are. LOOOOS-ER!!!!!
*These are the words of Mark and not Carers in Bedfordshire