Desperate husbands Stay-at-home fathers are a sign of the times. It's a dirty job

When people talk about their annus horribilis, they do not normally refer to the year in which they had their first children and got married. But 2008 was just that — because it was also the year in which I lost my job as a sales director in magazine publishing and became, at the age of 36, a “recession dad”, one of the growing league of stay-at-home husbands across the UK.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, I am now one of nearly 200,000 househusbands — a figure that has leapt up from fewer than 120,000 16 years ago — although a study commissioned by Tesco this summer estimates that the real figure is closer to 340,000. Although I am one of many, it was still a shock to swap the boardroom for the baby-changing mat. But I was already used to bombshells.

“Eees thees your first scan?” asked the Spanish ultrasound technician in the summer of 2007. Susie, my wife, and I both looked at her eagerly: “Yes, it is.” & quot;Well, eet ees twins.” Stony silence was followed by my convulsive laughter. We all started to giggle, and I suspect Poppy and Thomas — now 18 months old — did too. It was the start of a journey of discovery that was to be punctuated by many high — and low — points.

I was made redundant when the twins were 10 months old, and with Susie, 40, a fashion consultant, now the breadwinner, there wasn't much choice. I was going to have to pull my weight and become a hands-on, full-time dad — especially if I wanted the marital bed to remain a warm, inviting place. Did I panic? Not at all. I was completely unfazed, convinced I had always had a way with children. In fact, the change came almost as a relief.

Perhaps I wouldn't have been so confident if I had known just how steep the learning curve was going to be. For a start, to someone as outdoorsy as I am, our two-bedroom flat in Acton, west London — without a garden, and with a kitchen the size of a lot of people's downstairs loos — felt terribly poky. I thank God daily that we had the loft conversion done. My daily routine was exhausting at first. I had to be up round the clock, as the twins burbled to each other and woke each other up, then out of bed with them by 6am to let Susie get her sleep.

As for chores, they, of course, fell to me. I had always been the chef in the family, so cooking wasn't a problem, but the other household duties — cleaning, ironing and shopping — and the sheer organisational skills required to look after two small children proved something of a challenge. I'll admit to some help from a cleaner; and Susie irons the twins' clothes on weekends (while I am happy to let them run around in nappies until lunchtime, she is a stickler for them being pristinely turned out at all times).

I am now convinced that men don't have the same patience as women. When we embarked on this “project”, Susie would sometimes come home crying that it “just wasn't worth it”. My filthy mood, tired grumps and telephone calls to her every five minutes to ask her for advice drove her to distraction. Then, slowly, over time, I learnt to recognise that a certain cry from Poppy meant she was hungry, or that Thomas was just plain tired, and the fear of being stuck in a small space with two screaming kids gradually abated.

In good weather, out on the leafy streets of west London, I have raised my own levels of patience. Where before I used to march everywhere at an angry pace, with the twins in their tank-like buggy, I now stop and give way to everyone — I couldn't bear to be accused of being one of those “Chiswick mums” who has no concern for other pavement users.

The humiliation of going down the job centre has also been somewhat diminished by the hilarity of signing on accompanied by a couple of hysterical children. These days, I am virtually frogmarched to the nearest signing-on station and hurried through what is normally a long and tedious procedure.

It has come home hard to me that the area you live in, and where you choose to hang out with your kids, makes all the difference to your general mood. After the twins' first birthday, I decided it was time to locate our nearest playgroup. I found ours in Chiswick and spent an afternoon in “nappy valley”, embroiled in a never-ending discussion about IVF. I think the mums were quite excited to see a man, and I was asked if I wanted to attend their pub session on the first Thursday of the month — they were probably as bored as I was. I politely declined, though, and slipped off for a well-earned pint in my own favourite local.

I now take the twins to the Randolph Beresford Early Years Centre, in White City, west London, which suits us much better. It is very hands-on, with a lot of local colour and characters. It is well worth enduring the usual questions about the strawberry spot on Poppy's forehead to enjoy a couple of hours away from the house — and when it gets too much, I just tell people that her mother dropped her on her head as a baby.

As our two approach their second birthday, I can look back and admit that my role as a househusband took quite a bit of adjustment. At the beginning, I did yearn for office life, for the chance to escape to the boozer whenever I wanted. These days, the workload is no lighter, but the rewards for my efforts are much clearer. In fact, I am grateful to have spent these crucial months with my children. I've seen them grow up, take their first steps, discover and learn. When I go to the park on weekends, I see a lot of dads who obviously don't get to spend much time with their kids, and they don't seem to have a strong bond. I feel sorry for them.

I knew just how much I had immersed myself in my role when, at the beginning of this year, my wife was also made redundant. Don't get me wrong — I'm lucky to have such an efficient wife, and it was her routines that I implemented, her crucial advice that I took, her patience that inspired me. But I have spent this long doing things my way, and she has her own methods. She's desperate for me to get out of the house and start earning a decent crust, and I'll grudgingly admit that she probably still does know best. Although I like to think that if we'd only had one child, I could have done the job standing on my head.

Interestingly, my relationship with my own mother has improved immeasurably. She had five of the blighters. I can only wonder…

HOW TO BE A HOUSEHUSBAND

If you've been made redundant, you don't need to feel redundant. Being a househusband could be one of your most rewarding roles.

- Get organised with housework, and planning routines with the kids. There's a huge amount of helpful parenting literature out there.

- In the home, work out how you can use your space most effectively and research your nearest parks, playgroups and nurseries.

- Give up hangovers for a while — and get some early nights.

- Befriend your neighbours — they could provide invaluable support in terms of baby-sitting and local resources for new parents.

- Take your wife off speed dial. The woman's got a job to do and money to earn!

Hugo Carey

& lt;P>Fonte: http: www.timesonline.co.uk

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