When Elliott Rae started his fathers band Music Football Fatherhood in 2016, it was just him and a few men from the job. He didn’t face any negativity exactly, people just didn’t really understand what he was doing, or why he was doing it.
But the past 12 months have seen a massive surge in interest in paternity and fathers groups, he says, as fathers in the UK spend more time with their children and turn to other fathers to help them navigate the twists and turns of parenting.
“The lockdown has seen more men take on more child care than ever before and they are interested in finding support and discussing what it means to be a father in 2021,” he said.
While around 10 fathers initially attended a session, 600 showed up at an MFF event in February called “Helping Your Kids Get Through the Pandemic”. “The change has been massive,” says Rae, a former public servant who now focuses on full-time CFM.
Statistics suggest the past year could be transformational for fathers. In May 2020, the Office for National Statistics found that the first Covid lockdown resulted in a 58% increase in child care in male care, and while women continued to provide more child care, the The gender gap has narrowed. In 2015, the ONS found that men spent 39% of the time women spent looking after children, compared to 64% during lockdown.
Lockdown Fathers, a report from the Fatherhood Institute, found that 78% of fathers spent more time with their children, 59% did more housework, and 65% reported a better relationship with their child or the father-child relationship after the Spring 2020 lockdown.
“Fathers are much more involved, are much more positive about being fathers, and have the time and technology to connect with other parents and fathers in particular,” says Adrienne Burgess, its co-CEO.
“Government and employers have an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “
The conversation is about to change, says Elliott, who, alongside 19 other dads, recently posted Dad: Untold Stories of Fatherhood, Love, Mental Health and Masculinity. “People now see the value of supporting working fathers – not just because of the well-being of fathers, but because of what it does for gender equality,” he says.
At the same time, companies and employees are looking for advice on how to reshape the workplace. Last week, retailer John Lewis announced it would offer equal parental leave for moms and dads. A recent survey for the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that 48% of managers feared an employee exodus if remote work was stopped, while research conducted this week by the Behavioral Insights team (also known as Nudge Unit) revealed that letting male employees know their male peers are in favor of parental leave and that flexible working massively increases their intention to take it.
Dan Flanagan, who founded Dad La Soul, a social group of fathers and children in Sussex, five years ago, has seen its membership increase by about 40% in the past year. “Five years ago there were millions of mothers and babies groups, but absolutely nothing for fathers,” he says.
Since being able to spend more time with their children gave dads confidence, they “saw the other side of parenthood,” he says. “I think there has been a seismic change. It’s weird, but I’m thinking of something pretty terrible. Something really, really good is going to happen. As the group has moved online during the pandemic, they are eager to start having real life fun again – with Nerf Wars and beach bushcraft slated for the summer.
Leeds Dads have also seen an increase in interest online, but a mistrust of actual dating since the last lockdown, says founder Errol Murray. The group runs a series of forestry schools for dads and their children during the summer holidays, so fathers can learn and play with their children outside.
“We’re just providing an environment that allows dads to be supported,” he says. “I might not call it a fellowship, but it is a community of people who have so much in common. “