Over the last 300 mostly child branch nursing degree students I’ve spoken to – since I started counting – there has been 21 males. About 7% of the total. In 2 cohorts of health visiting students (around 65 in total), not one male. I’m not sure how that is representative of the nursing profession but Wikipedia says’ there’s 9.6% males in US nursing. In fairness with the accuracy of wiki that could be 96% or 0.96% so I’m not holding my breath but there’s something in it I think.
So, it’s a profession populated by women. What does that mean to a dad though?
To say that ‘we’re excluded’, or that there’s communication problems with dads, or that ‘we’ get treated differently, or that (horrifically) there’s no x-box with FIFA14 in the parents rooms is all, really, rhetoric. I’ve sometimes stated the obvious about these things and whilst to some people my doing that can be useful, I think it’s time I kind of moved to being more proactive rather than painting the status quo. After all the gender bias and resultant issues are an organisational culture, trans-generational issue that is bigger than any person reading this blog.
So for me, it’s time to look towards how dad’s like me can help, if we /I can. Now, as a starting point let me point out that what I know about being a dad is limited to the last 8 years. My dad was (is, if he is still alive) a total waste of space who at the last count was onto wife 3 and for the majority of my life has been the hide and seek champion of Bolton with no steer on my upbringing. So I have the benefit, and drawback, or not following footsteps. I don’t speak on behalf of any other dad’s, all I can offer is my own angle. I’m also not here to debate gender, masculinity, feminism or anything else because I know nowhere near enough about them to do it with integrity.
The first thing I’d say about dads in healthcare settings is that we rarely come together to create a ‘view’ on stuff that matters. I’m part of the NICU parents forum where Isaac stayed and occasionally new dad’s will come into the meetings (generally accompanying a ‘mum’) looking like they’re walking into a ballet class or some other emasculating experience. Hopefully we break that barrier by welcoming him when it happens but I have to admit walking in the first time myself to a group with a female matron, female sisters, female nurses, and about 8 mums felt weird. So that’s the first challenge I suppose, how does that invisible barrier that prevents dad’s from coming along without a gun being at their heads get dismantled? Acknowledging it is there is a great start. The answers to breaking the barrier are more complicated, perhaps it’s about a few things.
Firstly, possibly using the engaged dad’s to engage others is a start. Efforts I’ve seen are things like posters on walls in NICU, PICU, ENT wards talking about parent’s groups. Now come on, I don’t even read the instructions in an IKEA furniture flat pack, so the chances of me reading a poster on a wall in NICU are negligible. Chances of me saying to my wife ‘ooh, look lets go to that’? Square root of sod all.
Could Social media or the internet be a way of ‘reaching out’? Maybe, though again it really relies on someone making an intro to it being there. There’s a ‘dadsnet’ discussion board on the net but without being disparaging it’s nothing compared to mumsnet. In some weird reversal there are dads boards on mumsnet…yeah cos that’s the answer. Why not ‘parentnet’? Oh I know, I’m being a semantic pedant but hopefully you get my idea, there’s little out there angled at getting dad’s on board. What about directly having someone on the NICU (for example) at times who’s an ex dad who can strike up a conversation with me based on empathy and their experience and could direct me to the resources? Would have been a god-send to me, honestly. However, who pays the travel expenses and support costs of such an idea?
Another issue for dad’s is that often what you see isn’t what you get. Often in those days on NICU or PICU I was holding back the flood of emotions. From my experiences as a bloke, or a dad I infer people expect dad’s to be less affected by the situation of having a child with disabilities, not just HCP’s but employers, friends, everyone. If suddenly you’re the one dad (that you know) that put’s their head about the parapet and says ‘you know what, this is a nightmare, I’m in bits’ then you wouldn’t expect to receive emotional support. Because blokes are supposed to cope – or something like that. If a HCP asks us about experiences it’s easy to say ‘yes, im fine’ because that’s what we’re conditioned to do, or at least I am. If I say to a female nurse that when she, as the last nurse in a long line of nurses asked ‘when’s mum available?’ when she had info to relay, it makes me feel a tiny bit less of a dad and a bit devalued then I wouldn’t expect an understanding response. So how do you chip away at a dad who is closing out? I think it comes back to compassion – show you care, show you can empathise. Empathy with a dad isn’t any different to empathy with a mum irrelevant to whether you’re a male or female HCP.
I know a lot of female HCP’s may read this. Please don’t think I’m critical of any individuals, teams or hospitals, I’m not. It’s not a level playing field ; the challenges, like I said before, are embedded in the organisational cultures of healthcare. The only thing that will change it is acknowledging it and making incremental changes individually and collectively ; that goes for dads as well as HCP’s. The only benefit is for the children who will get the benefit of a dad who feels well supported, able to support mum, and like they have efficacy in the holistic care of their child.