It’s sad that stay-at-home dads are still considered ‘a bit weird’ in 2024

Michael and Jordan Day with their three children

Michael and Jordan Day with their three children (Image: Michael Day)

Michael Day’s typically non-stop morning is one almost every fulltime parent will relate to. “I was up at seven in order to get the children dressed, which is a battle in itself,” he tells me from his home in Sandy, Bedfordshire. “Then we have breakfast and I give Zeb his meds.Then we leave for school.

“I drop Elodie at nursery, Isaiah at school and then take Zeb to his parents-and-tots group. I stay with him for that session, then I might get five minutes for a coffee before going home, but only if Zeb and I don’t have any more medical appointments. Then, before you know it, the school pick-up run begins.”

The former locksmith stays at home to look after his three children – including two-year-old Zeb who was born with an extra vessel in his heart and has complex medical needs – while his wife Jordan works full-time as a nursery school practitioner.

So far, so familiar, you might think. After all, the number of stay-at-home dads in the UK has leapt by a third since before the pandemic. One in nine stay-at-home parents are now fathers – up from one in 14 in 2019, according to Office for National Statistics data.The number of dads who had left the workforce to look after their family rose by a third over the same period.

Yet, though being a stay-at-home dad is increasingly common in 21st-century Britain, Michael believes it is still looked down upon.

And, speaking ahead of Father’s Day tomorrow, the 31-year-old tells why his own position as a dad somehow saw him sidelined in the eyes of some medical practitioners after youngest child Zeb’s birth nearly three years ago.

“It’s tough, as it’s still, genuinely, seen as a bit odd to be the primary parent,” Michael admits. “But my advice to other men in the same situation is just to plough on. You’re doing the right thing. You’re doing it for your child.

“Sometimes I really don’t want to be the only bloke in a parent-and-child group. I stick out like a sore thumb. But as long as Zeb is having a good time, it’s worth it. And that’s the thing you have to think about before anything else.

“But it’s sad that, in 2024, as a society, it’s still considered a bit weird that dad stays at home. I’d love it to be more normalised.”

Michael and Jordan Day and their children Elodie, Isiah and Zeb

Michael and Jordan Day and their children Elodie, Isiah and Zeb (Image: Michael Day)

The couple had no inkling anything was wrong with their youngest son until they were due to find out his sex.

“Because of Covid I was waiting outside until I was asked to suddenly come in – I knew instantly something was wrong,” recalls Michael.

“The sonographer said our baby boy had an extra vessel in his heart.

“We didn’t know what that actually meant, and I remember feeling confused and scared – for me, my wife, and our unborn baby.”

Michael and Jordan were told their unborn son had been diagnosed with TAPVD, which stands for Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Drainage. They were warned there was a high chance of him not surviving long after birth. So, rather than preparing to bring their son home, the couple were heartbreakingly putting plans in place for a funeral.

“We were preparing ourselves for the worst whilst hoping for the best,” Michael says. “The whole time, I felt the pull between the support I knew my wife needed and the time my children needed at home. I didn’t have time to think about my own feelings.”

Zeb – full name Zebulan – was subsequently born by C-section and the next ten weeks was a whirlwind of tests, procedures, and separate heart and brain surgeries.

“He didn’t know life outside the hospital walls,” says Michael. “It was chaos and, looking back, I don’t know how I managed to stretch myself in so many ways for everyone that needed me. But as a husband and a father, that’s what we ‘have’ to do, right?”

Amid the confusion and worry, Michael began to feel he was being sidelined in any discussions about Zeb’s condition with doctors, nurses, consultants and surgeons. Far from being treated as the father of a desperately sick child, Michael increasingly had the sensation of being an invisible man.

“I don’t think it was a deliberate marginalisation from doctors and surgeons,” he says. “I think they did it without realising. I remember that I’d taken Zeb to Great Ormond Street for an MRI scan. Everyone there seemed to be fine.

“I felt I’d just signed Zeb’s life away by accepting the risks they told me were potential consequences of the general anaesthetic they had to give Zeb. Then Jordan arrived and I was immediately completely ignored.”

Michael’s calm, quiet demeanour is immediately apparent when speaking to him. Perhaps this accounts for the willingness of medics to address Zeb’s mother rather than him?

But it increasingly made him feel as though his presence and voice didn’t count. “I didn’t speak up. In that sort of situation, I was just sort of shocked. I asked myself, ‘Why am I now invisible?’ I try not to cause confrontation so, at first, my attitude was, ‘It is what it is. I must accept I’m second place’,” he sighs. “In my head it was easier to just accept it.”

Today Michael understands there are reasons why questions about Zeb and how the family was coping were directed at his wife. But, as a dad, he felt shut out – like his voice didn’t matter.

He admits there never was a moment he “broke” and began to fight back, although he did find an outlet for his feelings by confiding in Zeb’s dedicated complex care nurse, who was shocked at his experience.

“She checks in with us whenever Zeb has had an [hospital] admission and, on one occasion, I told her I was fed up,” says Michael.

“It had been a week of Zeb being in hospital, I had been cold-shouldered by doctors and she was quite shocked to find that this is still happening, even today, to fathers. She ended up taking my thoughts to the chief nurse of her hospital trust to raise awareness.”

Michael’s desire to be heard as Zeb’s father was finally realised when the family began working with Keech Hospice Care, which provides specialist support for children and adults living with lifelong medical conditions.

“Initially, the word ‘hospice’ filled me with dread, but I soon discovered that Keech was not just a place for the end,” he said.

“It’s a sanctuary, a place where we can relax as a family and feel comfortable with our surroundings. Their philosophy is that Zeb isn’t just our patient but the whole family is under their care. I see other dads there and there is just a whole family dynamic.”

With Zeb now nearly three years old and in his father’s daily care, Michael is now facing the stigma, familiar to many stay-at-home fathers, of being one of the only men at the school gates or at playgroups.

Yet he relates, with understandable pride, that Zeb is now well enough to go to a mainstream nursery this September. It will be the first time Zeb will be left without Michael in a non-clinical environment.

Zeb’s heart surgeons are happy with his progress, but his long-term prognosis is still relatively unknown. “It’s slow and steady wins the race,” adds Michael.

A lover of musical toys and playing with his older brother and sister, the little boy’s strength and courage seems to mirror that of Michael, who urges other men to speak up in order to avoid being made to feel that fathers are only of secondary importance when it comes to their children’s health.

”Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” Michael concludes ahead of Father’s Day tomorrow.

“I wish I’d spoken up earlier. Zeb’s care is so important and, as his father, I know how helpful it is now to be more vocal. All fathers should be saying, ‘I am here. I do matter’. As fathers we need to be listened to.”

More info on the work that Keech Hospice Care does with children, adults and families can be found at keech.org.uk

Source link