Papa Penguin spoke to Ian Dinwiddy, Founder of Inspiring Dads, to hear his story of being a “professional” school run dad. Ian has 10 years experience working as a Management Consultant specialising in Operational Change. He has spent seven years combining freelance work with being the primary carer to his children including two stints as a “full time” stay at home dad. Thank you Ian for the contribution!

I feel your presence – the story of a school run dad.

Hi, my name is Ian and I’m a “school run dad”. I’m one of the blokes you see on Fridays at the school gate. Except I don’t look slightly bewildered by the process. That’s because I’m there every morning and afternoon – even if you don’t see me some mornings (Breakfast club – 7:45am, in and out, park outside, no traffic. BOOM.)

I am “professional” school run dad. This is my primary job. Making sure the kids are fed and watered, house admin is done and providing a taxi service for afterschool activities. In many ways my coaching business is really the side hustle.

It’s not that my wife doesn’t do anything, far from it. But when she routinely gets home at 10pm and leaves at 7:15am you can see how it’s important for someone to be around to look after and supervise our children and that person has been me for as long as I can remember.

  • I know what you are wondering –  how do you become a school run dad?

Good question… a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – a galaxy called “before kids” my wife Lisa and I set out to design our working lives to fit the impending arrival of our first child (we have 2). It was 2010 which now feels like a long time ago.

We agreed a principle that “one of us will always be there for the kids”

On a practical and financial level that meant me.

I was working as a management consultant, my work schedule at the mercy of the client location, Lisa was and still is a Funds Lawyer. London based but long hours. She earnt more than I did, was always likely to and freelance options don’t really exist in Law but definitely do in consultancy.

It was in hindsight “one of us will always be there for the kids”  was our first family goal and underpins everything we do.

  • Phase 1 – Stay At Home Dad

I was one of the 19% of men whose request to reduce his hours was accepted. My work were great – before our daughter was born I had pencilled in a leaving date and we had agreed to reduce my pay and hours from 5 to 4 days – statutory paternity pay was a shock but work and the people around me were great.

Then in summer 2010 I stopped work altogether and became a full time stay at home dad.  This was my reality for 9 months until Freya started going to nursery two days a week.

  • Phase 2 – The Freelancer

This was a pretty cool time, blending first 2 days a week and then 3 days a week of nursery with freelance consultancy. Still time for Monkey Music, baby swimming and weekly soft play but also time to earn money and engage with adults. The most epic part would be making nursery pick ups at 6pm after a day trip to a client in Amsterdam.

  • Phase 3 – Primary School

When you’ve got used to nursery hours of 8-6 or “better”, finding out that a) school is 9-3 and b) they spend 2 weeks getting used to those hours is a shock to the system. For 3 years I blended nursery hours with school hours.

To be honest I’m not sure exactly when you stop being a “stay at home dad” and become a “school run dad” but in September 2017 – 7 years and 2 months after I initially stopped work, both children were in school, 5 days a week for the same hours and I guess I officially became a “school run dad”

  • What have I learnt?

As primary carer to our young children, I have definitely developed some deep and meaningful bonds. I think you gain certainty of what ‘purpose’ really means and you learn and finesse negotiation skills and patience, and of course, you learn (and never forget) the words to “where is monkey hiding?”

You also discover that your presence is sometimes the most important thing. Sitting and watching Paw Patrol, engaging with the sleeping game (my favourite) and debating whether getting ready for bath time is a reasonable request.

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that have the greatest impact, guys I work with often reference the little things from their childhood that really mattered. For me it was my dad arranging his work schedule (he was a House Surveyor) to watch our Weds afternoon sports matches

As a man inevitably you discover a world that is usually the preserve of mums – the world of “mental load”.

Yesterday this meant 3 loads of washing, making sure the stickers for teacher’s cards are done correctly. Getting child 2 to football practice, making sure cash was in house for child 1’s tutor. Co-ordinating family Xmas present allocations and getting two sets of meals ready.

The time spent being a full time dad is a major driver of equality in the home – just experiencing a few months of solo parenting completely changes your perspective of the scale and pressures involved in looking after young children on your own.

  • Challenges

Identity was one of the toughest for me.  I remember being asked “what do you do? It took a while to move away from the idea that “I’m a management consultant.”

I needed time to embrace a different version of identity that wasn’t built upon my job title. Hockey umpiring helped – it gave me a type of expert status that work often couldn’t – largely because I wasn’t working! Without I doubt I now have a blended and more nuanced view of what I “do”

School run dad is a useful short hand that I first discovered from John Adam’s excellent blog but equally Working Dad, Dadvocate, Coach and a Papa Penguin would fit well.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in the last 10 years it’s that understanding your values and objectives as a man and a dad is a vital part of your success. You then need to use that as a springboard to communicate openly and honestly with your partner and work as a couple to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.

As a French author called Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once wrote

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking together in the same direction”

Author: Ian Dinwiddy

Photo Credit: Ian Dinwiddy

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