As my family and I appreciate yet another summer in Sweden enjoying the company of family and close friends, I am left pondering how as a dad I am perceived in the UK compared to Sweden. A few seconds into my daydream I conclude that in the UK I am a superstar dad in the view of society, whilst in Sweden I blend in and society views me as an average dad.
Blending in for an English man with West African ancestral links is not an easy task. This is the land of blondes and I am a man of colour; the land of tall men and I am an average-to-short man in the eyes of the Swedes; the land where they all speak great English as well as Swedish and I speak English, and, in true British style, after 15 years of being together with my wife my three year old speaks better Swedish than I do.
In the UK, weekday and weekend trips to parks or forests, the library, shopping, or just going for a walk are greeted with the following ego-inflating statements by passers-by, including mums, yes you heard right NM’s:
“How wonderful, a dad is spending quality time with his kids?”
“What a modern dad………”
“Your wife is lucky to have a man that helps out.”
“Giving your wife a lie in [on the days the kids wake up far too early]?
“Have you taken time off work to spend time with the kids? – How good is that!”
“Really nice to see this, you do not see many dads doing this.”
And the list goes on……………..
The funny thing is that I know I am in an uncommon position when every time I walk by another dad with a kid(s) we simultaneously nod our heads to each other, acknowledging dad solidarity. I am very sure that mums do not go down the street nodding at each other; if they did they would probably have a sore neck within a few minutes of setting off.
Back in 2012 when my first child was born we made our first trip to Sweden as a family, accompanied by my over-inflated superstar dad status. I quickly realised that in Sweden I was an average dad, there was no one looking at me and smiling, no one was telling me how good I was to be spending time with my son. Even for a man of colour in the land of blondes I blended in.
In Sweden men not only share maternity/paternity leave with their partner, they also contribute to looking after the kids on a 50/50 basis. This is the norm. Swedish society does not praise a dad for doing what he should be doing; contrary to the UK, those who are not contributing are the ones who do not blend in. Sweden, and I guess I could say Scandinavia as a whole, is a special case where equality on all aspects of life is normal, so a dad playing his part fits into this normality.
Average dad in Sweden, superstar dad in the UK, do not even get me started on what society in Africa views me to be. Let’s just say in Africa an ND is a rare breed!