Generally, it starts off fairly innocuously. I’ll be on the tram with my three-year-old daughter and my 8-month-old son and a pleasant fellow passenger will clock us sitting in the buggy area.
They’ll smile broadly and coo at the baby, tell the preschooler she’s being very good and looks lovely in her pretty dress. And then, in exactly the same tone of voice they’d adopted for the children, they’ll turn to me: “So, are you on babysitting duty today?”
It’s remarkable how often this scenario plays out. In a way that a woman with children in tow going about her business wouldn’t merit a second glance, a father doing the same is absolutely fair game for a barrage of patronising “Isn’t he great, all the same?” commentary.
Mother out on her own with children: bog standard. Father out on his own with children: dogs walking on their hind legs.
Though, thankfully, we’re long past the days of stern Victorian patriarchs, many fathers out and about with their offspring find themselves on the receiving end of well-intentioned but undoubtedly regressive remarks: “God, he’s great with the kids.”
“Isn’t he brave taking them out around town on his own?”
“They change the nappies and everything now.”
The assumption is that the standard-issue father has no desire to be left with his own children and that even if he had an interest he’d be grossly incompetent, so you wouldn’t trust him with them anyway.
Click-bait pieces with titles like 37 Reasons You Should Never Leave Dad In Charge are funny, sure, but the inference is that men are no more than bigger versions of the children they’re drawing moustaches on or whose outfits they’re mismatching.
As a teacher, I’m in the very fortunate position of getting to spend far more time raising my children than the vast majority of working parents, male or female.
My wife works longer hours and doesn't have the advantage of those famed secondary-school holidays. We have often talked about how lucky we are that one of us can be a full-time parent for large chunks of the year.
The truth is that just as many working mums would rather be at home with their kids, so would many working dads. The notion that a man deserves a medal for raising his own children, something that would never be afforded a woman doing the same, is at best condescending and at worst infuriating.
I imagine my wife on her way home after picking our two up from creche. Would the well-meaning tram commuter have asked her, laden down with buggies, scooters, changing bags, and with her baby son spitting up on her freshly dry-cleaned work suit, if she was “on babysitting duty today”?
I’m not babysitting either. I’m parenting.
James Dargan Ward is 31 and lives in Dublin with his wife and two children, Giulia, three, and Felix, eight months. He can be found on Twitter @jdarganward.