STEP aside Mumsnet, the nation’s fathers want a slice of the social networking action.
If you’ve ever been around children you’ll be more familiar than is good for your mental health with the ear-bleeding ditty The Wheels on The Bus, in which, around verse 27, the line goes: “The mummies on the bus go yak, yak, yak.” The daddies, meanwhile, are lucky enough to be able to “read, read, read” in the verse dedicated to their bus behaviour.
There’s a lot of truth in the stereotype that women are happy to get together and blether, especially if the topic is parenting, and so it was that they took the practice into social media with all the gusto of Supernanny rolling up her sleeves and sorting out a troublesome toddler who refuses to adhere to a strict timetable of mealtimes and the naughty step. From information and advice on parenting to politics and cultural discussions, mums’ websites and bloggers seemed to have it all sewn up.
Even prime ministers recognised the power of the mum vote: witness Gordon Brown being quizzed mercilessly on the country’s most popular parenting website, Mumsnet, on everything from the economy to his favourite biscuit. After repeatedly dodging the cookie question during his live webchat, while the mums speculated whether he was a garibaldi or a nice man, he was forced to return later to the debate with a decisive “anything with a bit of chocolate”.
David Cameron didn’t make the same mistake when he logged on for his ‘appearance’ on Britain’s most used parenting site and outbiscuited Brown with his healthy, if not quite believable, “oatcake”.
While mums have had the power to make politicians quake online for some time, it has taken dads a little longer to come out of the shed and claim equality in the blogosphere when it comes to having their say on parenting. Back in 2008 there was Fathers Direct, set up a year before Mumsnet, which became the Fatherhood Institute and promotes good practice in the workplace to reflect fathers’ wishes to be involved in their children’s lives. But the informal father’s voice has been missing.
Now, however, there’s a new breed of blogger on the block and he’s all man, holding forth on everything from weaning to screaming, and happy to dish the dirty nappies along with his female counterparts. UK-wide, popular dad bloggers include Tim Atkinson who writes Bringing up Charlie, and Ben Wakeling, with his Goodbye Pert Breasts, the diary of a newborn dad, where he is currently ruminating, and raising a smile, over whether to have a vasectomy.
There’s also no shortage of websites for the proud or despairing dad to log on to for support, companionship or amusement, with topics including debates on paternity leave and whether children should make Father’s Day cards at school, given that one in four children live in single-parent (usually female) homes.
On Homedad.org.uk, stay-at-home father Roger the Shrubber is stung by his wife’s comments: “Today you did absolutely nothing,” (even though he did the nursery run, cleaned a bit and took care of the children’s needs), prompting other fathers to leap in and big him up with support. One advises him not to beat himself up over any mess. Then there’s the more calculating: “Wives are just like bosses and should be treated as such.”
In Scotland there is Fathers Network Scotland (www.fathersnetwork.org.uk) offering advice, support and a blog, while individuals are also finding their voice with their own sites. For stunning photographs and touching posts see both Sam Proctor Stories (500px.com/potteringaround/stories/31156/finlay-s-start), and John Nagl’s Falling Sky (fallingsky.blogs.com) blogs.
Then there’s Craig McGill (www.scottish-blogger-dad.com), a 38-year-old father of three from Duddingston who is something of an old hand, having started blogging when his first child Abigail, now seven, was two. He has also charted the ups and downs of caring for siblings Adam, two, and nine-month-old Sam.
“I started it as a bit of fun for my own amusement. I had great aspirations of doing a diary but my handwriting’s terrible so I started doing daily blogs. It’s a nice way to unwind once the kids are in bed. I didn’t have a great plan we could look back and reminisce, but people found it and liked it,” he says.
“One of the great reasons for writing a dad blog is you don’t have to talk to relatives you don’t like anymore. They can just read your blog to find out how your kids are. But you do get aunties pulling you up for your language.”
One of the first dadbloggers, McGill is something of an authority on parenting sites and what’s out there in the blogosphere. “Blogging has gone mainstream now, but there still aren’t that many Scots dads doing it. I’m an endangered species. Down south they have one-day events for blogging mums. Anyone trying to plan the dad one has got as far as ‘Let’s meet in the pub at 5pm’,” he says.
“It’s the same tales I tell my friends in the pub. It’s an easy way to get five minutes of peace to drink your pint if you ask about their kids, and online is just an extension of that. Guys under 40 talk about their kids and family issues; we’re no longer Billy Connolly’s ‘nation of hairy-arsed welders’.”
However, times are changing and, as well as an increase in bloggers, men are increasingly using Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest to post photos of their children.
“In Scotland particularly there’s still that idea of holding on to your feelings. I would quote Lee Barnett, a dad who tweets as Budgie and writes a very touching blog (www.budgies- perch.livejournal.com), who says the difference between mums and dads is mums can tell you the names of their kids’ dolls and imaginary friends but a dad is just aware there’s another person in the house,” he says.
“Ten or so years ago people lumped dads online as being real attention-seeking bampots like Fathers 4 Justice. When I started people would ask if I was one of those wacky online dads. My uncles said, ‘Why do you want to write about the kids online?’ But now they like it. Female friends say, ‘That’s so nice taking time to talk about his kids,’ whereas guys say, ‘Why don’t you just write about Celtic like everyone else?’”
As to the differences between men and women’s blogs, McGill says mothers are more likely to open up about failings and feelings. “It’s not that dads don’t care, but they’re more likely to tweet about a baby spewing on them. Guys go for self-deprecating humour and it’s more about the kids. Blog mums say more on the relationships between the parent and child, like Sally Whittle (www.whosthemummy.co.uk), who blogs about her child Flea. It's really touching, but it’s not even 1,000 words long.
“That's the beauty of blogging: it’s short, and relevant. And it’s good to know there’s a support group out there because looking after a kid is insane. How do we get through it?”
With tweets flying back and forth faster than Wotsits at a kiddies’ food fight, bloggers have to be made of stern stuff to deflect criticism. “Dads are less likely to bare their soul. I have written and deleted things and think, ‘Get over yourself ya big lump’, whereas women are more honest and accepting of each other. They’ll give advice, not just attack each other. Exposing weakness is hard for men. It goes back to the days of thinking of ourselves as the breadwinners.
“If people are struggling, blogs and websites show them there’s help. We’re all working long hours, looking after kids and if you’re a young, single parent, that can be hellish. My mum raised me single-handed from aged five and I said, ‘How did you manage that with two jobs?’ She said, ‘We just got on with it,’” he says.
It might be argued that being raised by a single mother prompted McGill to blog as a way of reinforcing a fathering role he did not benefit from himself, but he has a different take on this.
“I think it would be a stretch to say my mum raising me (more or less) as a single parent had anything to do with being a blogger. What I would say is, despite coming from the East End of Glasgow, my mum always encouraged me to read and be curious and to write and that probably played a part. Also, the fact that my mum was always very proud of me meant when it came to my own children I didn’t see any issue in expressing publicly my feelings for them because there’s a chance the words I put down on screen – along with any pictures and videos – are all that will be left for my children to remember me by.”
For blogger John Murray, aka ‘wee daddy mcludgie’, (weedaddymcludgie.wordpress.com) a 36-year-old father of two from Dunlop in Ayrshire, who has been blogging about Joseph, six, and Samuel, three, for the past year, it’s more a way of contacting his wife.
“I care for the children full time and then go out to work in the evening so we only communicate by Post-it notes and the blog,” he jokes.
Murray’s motivation is to reflect his own experiences. “There’s no message, it’s just for people to enjoy. It took me six months to find my voice but now I’m writing film scripts, short stories and just had a piece published in The Guardian,” he says.
Meanwhile, for McGill, it’s also about the other fathers he meets online. “It’s a network who talk about the blog. Say I’ve bought a car, they’ll ask what others I looked at,” he says.
Ah yes, the car. McGill found the power of the blog useful when it came to his new set of wheels. Having argued with a dealer over perceived failures, his post ‘Arnold Clark don’t care if my Ford S-Max and their botched work kills a child’ saw his complaint settled within four hours. “If you were a normal customer they wouldn’t bother,” he says.
McGill has no qualms about being controversial. “I’ve got my opinion. You can’t just be saying the nice things to get the holiday from Disney and phones from Nokia.”
Has he had the holiday from Disney and free phones?
“No, not yet.”
And as for Mrs McGill, what does she think about his blogging? “My wife just humours me. I’m often tempted to blog about her, but she would see it as me setting her up for favours. Words couldn’t do her jutice.”
• Dads Rock and Fathers Network Scotland is bringing anexhibition of photographs of fathers and their children to the Edinburgh Festival. Closing date for entries is 20 June. To find out more see dadsrock.blogspot.co.uk
Five of the best dad-blogs
WE’VE picked out five of the best ‘dad-blogs’ for your perusal.
Ian Newbold lost his wife in 2005 when his son, Max, was seven months old and has been blogging about his experiences since 2007. He writes regularly about the development of Max, as well as his own love of cars.
“April and early May have been busy months for us, involving a lot of travel. We were in Jamaica for a family wedding, and Max’s confidence was again on show.
“He’d not been there an hour, and he was sat at the swim-up bar ordering himself, and his friends, strawberry slushies. There’s all sorts of issues to consider there, I know, but to have the confidence to mix among loud holidaymakers, and successfully gain the attention of bar staff pleased me greatly ... all without me prompting him to do so.”
2 goonerjamie.blogspot.co.uk (The Life and Times of a Househusband)
Jamie H’s Twitter page describes him as a “househusband, cook, scallywag, writer and wannabe Waitrose shopper”, and his blog provides the confessions of “a thirtysomething househusband bringing up three monsters”.
“To be honest, it was by pure chance that I even saw the damned sign. I’m normally so busy juggling book bags, lunch boxes and children that it’s as much as I can do to push the right child through the right classroom door, all in my haste to return the temporary peace and quiet of home. But I did, so score one for me, Mr Responsible Dad for a change. This new me may even start reading school newsletters in future. It would be quite refreshing to be one step ahead of the game rather than standing outside locked school gates on an inset day.”
Tim Atkinson won both Blogger of the Year and Best Blog Writer in 2010 as well as being runner-up in the Author Blog Awards the same year. In 2011 the site was ranked number one ‘daddy’ blog in the UK by Cision and is being archived by the British Library as part of its digital media project.
“I’m delighted that what began as a personal record of my career change to full-time fatherhood has evolved into something other people sometimes want to read. I try not analyse the reasons for that too closely. I’m just delighted to be part of a growing blogging community, exchanging anecdotes, sharing the good times as well as bad, offering mutual support and helping overcome the isolation of being at home with young children.”
Ben Wakeling, 27, is a father of two and author of the bestselling parenting books Goodbye, Pert Breasts and Teething Pains.
“You spot them, a few paces away, looking at you with beady little eyes. A candle of snot slugs its way out of their nostril, trickling over a top lip on to waiting tongue. You freeze. They freeze. Everyone else fades into the background, the hum of conversation becoming all distant and echoey. It’s like a scene out of a Wild West film. And then they come for you, toddling, nappy-padded bum wiggling from side to side, grubby hands outstretched, heading right for you and your favourite jeans. At this point, you know just two things: this is not your child; the child’s parents are probably watching from afar, chuckling softly to themselves.”
Dan, 35, works as a community mental health nurse and is married with two children – Amy, eight, and Evan, five.
“To be honest I’m looking forward to summer now. The range of indoor activities is starting wear thin and it’s becoming increasingly tempting to switch on Cbeebies when inspiration dries up. It’s a quirk, or even a fault, of mine that I feel the necessity to do something on each of my days off. If I just kick around the house the time seems to go quicker somehow and I feel that I’ve wasted precious time. These days I’ve added the feeling of guilt that I’m not stimulating Amy too. The logical part of me realises that she finds pottering around the house seeing how much of the floor she can cover with toys just as much fun as driving half an hour or so in order to have an outing. That doesn’t stop me exclaiming: ‘Lets go pot-holing!’ as soon as I get my first twinge of boredom.”