Why 2016 is my 'Year of the Dad'

Who would have thought I would write a blog post about the fact that I went to the zoo with my daughter today?

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Well, as you may suspect, there was a bit more to it. Today, Edinburgh Zoo saw Fathers Network Scotland and the Scottish Government declare 2016 the 'Year of the Dad'. Now, you may ask, what's that good for, and where's the year of the mum?

Well, gender equality must include parenting equality. For way too long, fathers were allowed to believe that most parenting tasks were the mother's job. Evenings and weekends were for drinking beer and watching football. While some fathers today still need a kick in the butt to live up to their duties (and, just sayin', none of us will ever know what it's like to be pregnant or give birth), there's still so much that could be improved in the overall framework provided by society to enable fathers to live up to the role and be great dads.

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For me, it all started when I became a father one late night in 2011. Despite having witnessed the long and complicated struggle of giving birth, I wasn't allowed to stay in hospital and continue to support my partner and our newborn – instead, I was sent home, told to return with the right type of car seat the next afternoon. It was a sleepless night regardless.

A good part of this has to do with the exclusiveness of language. When looking for advice on parenting issues, I would end up on 'Mumsnet' or 'Netmums'. I considered attending the local 'Mums2Mums' café but didn't have the guts to upset them. Granted – not every space needs to be invaded in the name of gender equality. But there was a clear lack of such spaces for dads, or even spaces that are open to parents of any gender. (It also left me wondering where co-parenting gay fathers would go.)

At my job, I would have been given a mere two weeks of statutory paternity leave – that is, had I been eligible and had already been with my employer for half a year! This wasn't the case, so I had no rights. (If I had been living in Norway rather than the United Kingdom, it seems I would have been entitled to a whole 14 weeks of paid parental leave.)

Luckily, my employer at the time was generous, allowing for flexible hours and for me to stay at home for some time. That was driven by their common sense, not my statutory rights. Still, I did some work from home and had to make up for the shortfall by doing overtime over the months to come.

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I also feel folk really don't know how time-consuming this thing called 'parenting' is – until they are going through it themselves. To outsiders, it all just looks like you're overly obsessed with your offspring. I, for sure, hadn't a clue. And none of the colleagues around me had any children. To this day, I'm still not sure they really understood why I sometimes ended up being tired, un-talkative, or forgetful. And I don't blame them.

Fathers now find themselves struggling with their own work/parenting balance just like mothers have for a long time. According to today's Sunday Times, 42% of younger dads feel burnt out most or all of the time. This is matched by 43% of them who would happily take a pay cut to work less and find a better balance. 

It's one of the reasons why I enjoy being my own employer again: I can say 'no' to things. I can work or not work whenever I want. Well, almost... I constantly have to deliver to clients on deadlines, and these clients would understand even less if I were to tell them that I couldn't deliver something in time due to parenting duties. So I end up trying to be a good dad whenever I can, but I work very late nights on campaigns or on websites like yearofthedad.org.

This finally explains why my message is posted on the Film & Campaign website. While almost all of my work is related to documentaries, I've occasionally created NationBuilder websites for non-film clients such as the campaign to free an Venezuelan opposition leader.

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I based my new company at The Melting Pot which is not only a co-working space but a real hive of social entrepreneurs. Among the busiest bees in the hive are those working for Fathers Network Scotland. These 'fathers' operate on a quota: 50% male drones, 50% female bees, and a queen bee as interim CEO. (Trust me, ever since I started publishing BUGSfeed for Danish Documentary, I have learned a lot about bees...) 

At some point last year, we just clicked. They became interested in my NationBuilder work, and I found them a cause worthwhile enough for me to depart from my usual paths in the film world. Fathers Network Scotland are in it for all the right reasons – not for some weird battle of the sexes, but to create awareness, spaces, dialogue, and hopefully real change. (Yes, it's the same kind of result that you'd expect from impact campaigns around documentaries.)

That's why I found myself building first a provisional website for Year of the Dad, then the main site for the organisation (including a fancy map-based directory created with the help of Veracity), and now the brand new website for Year of the Dad – all feeding into the organisation's main NationBuilder database that allows them to truly activate their supporters.

But all that aside, and most importantly, I had a fun day with my daughter at the zoo, and Mum had a day of rest. Thank you, Fathers Network. And yes, let's all make 2016 the Year of the Dad.

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