Skip to content

Book Your Visit Today

Please select from one of the below options to be redirected to the booking pages for our schools


Happy Father's Day 2024

I'm writing this from my wife's desk at our home in Stoke Newington, having managed to implement my right for a brief reprieve from the morning chaos that running a house of 3 children entails. Today is Father's Day but the weather doesn't appear to care. It's raining, dampening my hopes for some exercise.

As I stare out of the window at the rain, I've decided to redirect my energies to writing a post about Father's day and fatherhood. As I sip my luke-warm coffee, lovingly made by my daughter of 6 so, replete with grains of coffee swirling around the brown water, I wanted to reflect on being a dad myself and why it's so important that we celebrate parents collectively, for all of the awesome work that we do....

The History of Father's Day

The eponymous "Dad day" is not actually native to the UK. Like so many things, it is a cultural import from the United States, along with a Coca Cola branded Father Christmas and Taylor Swift. And like Taylor Swift and the fat and jolly father Christmas, this is an import I love.

The story goes that Senora Louise Smart, of Arkansas, gave birth to her first baby, Jack, in 1909 and found it surprising that there was no similar festival to celebrate her husband and father, as there had been for her mother. Mother's Day itself had only been invented in 1907, springing out of the women's groups and female emancipation movements of the early 20th century, so no doubt she wanted to jump on the same secular festival bandwagon. She was a good egg in that respect. As an aside, the UK's "Mothering Sunday" is actually a religious festival and entirely different from the American Mother's Day (so yet another American cultural import). In the UK, it is the 4th Sunday after Lent, and traditionally was to allow girls who worked as domestic service to return home (once a year!) to see their families. And it was the Sunday in which parish congregations would turn to their "Mother" Church - the large Cathedrals or Churches that were in market towns and cities. Nothing to do with your actual mother at all!

But it's not as if fathers were not celebrated before the 20th Century. That was when the secular celebration really took hold. St Joseph's Feast Day, held in March, has always been traditionally associated across the Catholic world as the day to celebrate fathers and has been since the middle ages. Joe was, after all, Jesus' dad and so, presumably had some kind of influence in his life, albeit not as much as his mother Mary. But, apparently, it was his duty, courage and sacrifice that, in particular, singled him out for veneration in the pantheon of Catholic Saints. 

What it means to be a father

I find these qualities resonate not just with fathers but with parents, even if the story of Joseph, and his "sacrifice" bears some particular historical significance for men at that time. It is said that Joseph was betrothed to Mary, and yet discovered that she was with child (what became known as the "immaculate conception"). What I didn't know is that his initial thought was to divorce and break off the legal contract to marry, which would, presumably, have been typical for men to do at the time. But he changed his mind after another immaculate intervention - an angel told him to follow through with the betrothal and so he wed Mary.

Presumably the courage was in marrying someone who was known to be pregnant by another, even if claims that the "another" was in fact God....probably doubly courageous on that front as most would have probably assumed her to be heretical on that basis. The duty was in granting legal protection for both Mary and her child even when he might have struggled with the decision. And his sacrifice was presumably something to do with his options of getting married to someone else who didn't have the baggage?

I wanted to explore these particular themes of duty, courage and sacrifice a little further - for both mothers and fathers alike, but with particular reference to dads, given that today is supposed to be their special day. Because I think we all need to remind ourselves of what we do, why we do it and what it means to those who receive it from us: our children.

Duty: Stepping Up as Dad

I speak to lots of dads, working in childcare as I do. They speak on their hopes and dreams for their children; their challenges in juggling work and parenthood and, indeed, what it means to be a man in the modern world. Certainly, for most, concepts of good and bad parenting appear to be based on what we ourselves experienced from our parents. And you only have to think back to what society looked and functioned like in the 1970s and 1980s to understand how far things have evolved (in my view to the better) to render much of that experience relatively redundant. 

Back then, it was typical that men and fathers inhabited the role of the primary breadwinner for the family, even as feminist activism was arguably pushing the needle towards greater gender equality. Note I emphasise "pushing" - we are far from finished in that long, hard battle (see Linkedin post here and my more expansive blog on the subject here). But it might surprise you to know that parents, collectively, are spending far more time with their children, and on childcare, than we once did. A study, published in the Journal of Time Use Research, showed that mothers and fathers from all social classes and all educational backgrounds increased the time they spent caring for their children under 12 years old between 1961 and 2015 (the most recent data set), with a significant rise between 1974 and 1983. In 1961, mothers spent an average of 96 minutes per day on childcare, which increased to 162 minutes per day in 2015; and fathers fathers did 18 minutes of childcare per day in 1961, which increased to 71 minutes per day in 2015, despite paid labour hours increasing for both. Lawrence Samuel PHD traces this evolution back to the rise of the "new fatherhood" movement in the states in the 1980s, calling for far greater emotional and physical involvement of the father in the child's early years. 

Surprisingly, it is women in the professional class – most of whom also went to university – who have been able to devote the most time to childcare despite the fact that they have had the longest working hours since the 1980s. And whilst women are still providing the majority of unpaid care within society, the gap during covid completely disappeared, but generally has dramatically narrowed since the 1980s (see the ONS journey through life and Time use bulletins for more info on the data of how men and women split work and roles in the "household). There is still much to do to equalise and normalise the balance between the two but it's important to acknowledge the trajectory is encouraging.

A father's impact on Child development 

And there is much more evidence about the positive impact about having a more present and engaged father.

  • Emotional Development: positive and present fathers can help children develop greater emotional regulation, empathy, resilience and self-control (Journal of Family Psychology, 2006)
  • Cognitive Development: fathers who take a proactive and positive approach to their child's education - story-telling, playing with them in both physical and imaginative contexts, helping them problem solve in critical and analytical reasoning games and more - can deliver much greater educational attainment (University of Leeds study in 2023)
  • Language & Communication Skills: by engaging and interacting with their children (eye contact and actual talk, not phones!) in their infancy, dads can have a lasting impact on a child's linguistic confidence and knowledge of the world (University of North Carolina in 2006)
  • Self-esteem, confidence and resilience: Fathers play a central role in developing resilience in children, confidence in their own abilities and capability to push beyond their perceived limits (Feldman 2023)

Dr Stephen Poulter PHD goes further in his analysis within the Father Factor, arguing your father - and specifically the type of father you have - will determine much of your future character and capacity (empathetic, academic, emotional or otherwise) and Dr Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist from the University of Oxford, goes further:

  • Human dads are part of a very rare club - only 5% of mammals have fathers who take an active role in parenting, and so must have a role in their infant's development (emotional, cognitive or physical). 
  • Dad's testosterone levels drop after the birth of their children but are matched by an increase in oxytocin, which is produced whilst living with their pregnant partner - in fact it aligns in perfect synchrony during this period - and then is produced whenever we play with our children
  • Our limbic area of our brain - where our emotions are regulated - and our neocortex - our conscious thought - actually physically alter after we become dads. It's as if our brains are becoming more focussed on empathetic engagement with our children, and that we need to be more aware of who we are and our actions
  • Dads don't have the benefit of the immediate hormone rush of pregnancy, but develop that hormonal bonding with our children through physical interaction and play, and, according to Dr Anna, it is through the "rough and tumble" that beta-endorphins and oxytocin for both father and child are released, which are as crucial to a baby's development as the loving nurture from the mother
  • Dads role is to challenge the child to deal with the external world, and the mum's to provide a secure centre - both critical features for creating a secure base or foundation for a child to develop self-confidence and esteem to engage confidently with the rest of society.

Whether or not you believe all the data behind the research, it's clear happy, stable and attentive dad's are important if not vital to the development of our children. And we shouldn't forget the role that they've had, and are increasingly trying to do, in the modern family unit.


Have a thought on Dad's Mental Health

But I emphasise the importance of happy, stable and attentive dads. Because it is not plain sailing navigating this changing world for many of us, women as well as men. 

  • Whereas 26% of young women will experience some form of mental health problems (almost 3 times as many as men), of those who act our on suicidal ideation are almost entirely men - 76% of all suicides recorded in 2016 were committed by men (ONS).
  • Women are more likely to seek out help whilst men tend to internalise their mental health problems until they erupt in some form of substance abuse - three times as likely to abuse and ultimately die from that abuse (Mental Health Foundation)
  • Men report significantly lower life satisfaction than women (ONS) with those reporting the least life satisfaction - the 40-49 year olds - correlating to the highest risk of suicide (Mental Health Forum)

The incidence listed on these websites makes for some tough reading. One gets the image of a solitary figure, attempting to manage life's pressures on his own, terrified about disclosing his fears for fear of ridicule over his inability to "man up" and deal with it. I've no doubt that spending time with your children alleviates mental health problems - I know that when my own work gets too much, just playing with my kids in the living room, drawing, or listening to my girl practice her piano is enough to balance me. And it reminds me of the importance of life outside of work. If it's true that the gender balance between working roles within the family unit is still tilted in favour of the mother doing most of the unpaid childcare and work, we desperately need to find a way to rebalance that to not just be more equal, but to be equal full stop. The children need it. Mothers want it. Fathers quite clearly need it too - to be involved in the school drop off so that social isolation doesn't play a part. To participate in the PTA and school fairs and fetes. To start a dad's football team. Because life isn't or shouldn't just be about work - it seems our biology and our mental health need it to be more about family and the community too.

So spare a thought to Dad this father's day. How is he actually doing? 


Supporting Working Dads (and Mums!)

As we reflect on the role of fathers and the importance of balancing work and family life, it's essential to consider how we can support parents in their dual roles. At Hatching Dragons, our Workplace Nursery Scheme offers valuable benefits for busy working parents helping to alleviate the financial burden of childcare by allowing employers to pay childcare costs directly from the employee's gross income (pre-tax). This arrangement reduces both the NICs and PAYE for employees, as well as the NICs for employers, making it a practical solution that supports family well-being.

If you're interested in learning more, visit the link below and consider recommending us to your employer. We would be delighted to discuss how the scheme works and assist in implementing it as a corporate benefit.