I am an American living in Putney, a district in London’s so-called Nappy Valley — an area known for its particularly high reproductive rates. It’s a claim I have verified via an informal tally of neighborhood strollers. Leafy streets and low(ish) housing prices are a magnet for young professionals ready to have kids.
This demographic includes my family. I take care of our toddler. My wife works. As new parents, moving here from Virginia was a good decision for us. Parks and playgrounds are plentiful. The health-care system is excellent. For American expats, the culture shock is negligible.
While gender roles may have evolved, stay-at-home dads are still a minority — in this cosmopolitan city and elsewhere. I rarely see other fathers with children on weekdays, which is unsurprising given that nearly 93 percent of them work. The local library has Dad’s Rhyme Time on Saturdays. Naturally, only fathers are busy during the week, an assumption that irks my wife.
Most days at the playground, surrounded by mummies and nannies, I feel like a woman in a corporate boardroom: alone and slightly cold.
But minor discomfort is nothing compared to the kindness of strangers when my 2-year-old is with me. I have not opened a door in some time. Lattes appear on my table at cafes. Teenagers in torn jeans give up their seats for me on crowded trains. English politeness, largely a myth, springs to life in the presence of a man and his baby.
Even flying with my little one is easier because of the thoughtfulness of airline crew and other travelers. Flight attendants play with him while I eat. Suited gentlemen invite us to first-class lounges. The occasional (okay, one) TSA agent smiles as we approach.
The only adults indifferent to my heroic accomplishment of raising a child are my sisters-in-arms: women with babies. The English mother is not an overly friendly species, at least not to a tan man in a milk-stained Old Navy fleece. Depending on the situation, she will either eye me with suspicion or pretend I do not exist.
Such surliness might hurt my feelings, but it is understandable in a society that glorifies dads and undervalues moms, whether they work or stay home.
I have it easy. Other than my child, nobody expects much of me. Success is simply showing up with him. Making a meal for the family makes me a superdad. My worth does not rely on my kid’s behavior or the cleanliness of my home. When he melts down in public, I get sympathy, not dirty looks.
In my experience, being a stay-at-home dad, far from being a social stigma, is rather respectable, even though most people assume that I am incompetent at the job.
My friends who are stay-at-home moms tell a different story. In addition to being held responsible for their children’s misdeeds, they are judged — often by other women — for not having careers. Giving up work was a noble sacrifice for me; the same act would have been unremarkable for my wife. In actuality, we both wanted to stay home with our son and decided to take turns.
Amid such diminished expectations, I feel guilty complaining about how tired I am. Raising a child is hard work. No matter what others think of me, my toddler has to be fed, clothed and entertained. The days are long. I often long for adult company. Sometimes, even my humdrum former job sitting at a computer behind a closed office door seems attractive.
But I am very grateful for my life.
My mother quietly raised two kids with cloth diapers and an old-school husband. Nobody thought to ask her how she did it. I have a housekeeper and an Instant Pot. My wife insists on doing the dishes and always wants more time with her baby.
Yet, everyone marvels at how well I am doing.
To an American family, Nappy Valley feels just like home, where a mediocre man is celebrated for work that is routine for a woman.