James Fox-Robinson, Renaissance Dad. | Part 2


James was put on furlough from April and didn’t return to work until August. His wife continued to work 30 hours a week as an NHS Chaplain, so James was also home schooling their two children. He began to ask questions around what he enjoyed and ultimately what made him happy. As he wasn’t really missing work he wondered whether there was a different way forward for their family. James’ wife  worked hard to gain the experience and knowledge she needs to further her career and so James began to reflect on how he could best support her. The decision to become a stay at home dad was made (which is not just about being a dad, it’s about keeping house and all the other life laundry) and wasn’t taken lightly – it’s an amalgamation of all sorts of reasons for both him and his wife.


[Part One of his interview with 50:50 can be found here.]


What was your exposure to traditional / unconventional roles growing up and how has this affected your feelings about taking on this new life choice?

You either follow your parent’s example or strive to be different. We find ourselves in the second category. We both had parents that worked too hard, were questionably present and we wanted something different for our own kids. We chose to work part time so we could bring up our own kids, bucking the prevailing trend of childcare which most families have no choice to do because of the cost of living. We agreed to be poor and happy but we’ve not been happy because the way the world works is not set up to support that decision. There’s a whole other blog post about being screwed over by HMRC and ending up using a food bank which my wife took 110% of the emotional fallout from as I had depression at the time due to redundancy 2 years previously… The decision to become a stay at home dad is frankly pretty scary. I find myself asking “Is parenting a natural ability or is much of it doing our best with what we know and the circumstances we find ourselves in?” There is no great precedent for this role, centuries of societal thinking that mean people don’t understand it and I have a huge fear of people’s assumptions that it wasn’t a well thought out and agreed choice rather than circumstantial due to unemployment or illness or whatever. I know this is irrational as most people are too busy worrying about your opinion of them to have an opinion of me but fear is a funny thing…  



How much does society and external expectations / views influence and shape how we think we should be and our capacity to fit certain roles in life based on our gender? How has this affected you personally?

This is a paradox question… I believe that there are huge societal and external expectations that we fit certain roles and yet, I believe we fill them because we don’t question those expectations. If I, as a stay at home dad, and others in non-conformist roles can encourage other men to take a step back and reflect on why they are fulfilling certain expectations then I think there’s the potential to start seeing a shift towards gender equality. I think the key to this issue (along with many others in society) is that people don’t really know who they are anymore. I’m not oblivious to the fact there will always be a percentage of society with sexist, misogynistic, racist and other discriminatory views, but if people were to take a step back and truly grapple with who they are, what makes them happy and therefore how they treat other people we might begin to see a change. I’m not sure I’m fully there but you definitely need to be very aware of self to enable you to support change to deeply ingrained discriminatory practices in our world.


Usually we see men depicted as being incompetent and bungling when it comes to being fathers and taking on household responsibilities. Have you been aware of  experiencing any stereotype threats as a result of taking on what is traditionally seen as a ‘mother’s/ woman’s role’?

I don’t think this is as much of a shock as it could be as we’ve been sharing these responsibilities since we got married 13 years ago – I can cook and use the washing machine, I sew the buttons and hoover. There are still stereotype threats that linger in the background. Dad’s are not the parent who generally does the school run but most mum’s I’ve gotten to know are not phased by it. Our 6 year old daughter has proved difficult to get into school some days and the headteacher commented once that they do have the ability to wrap dad around their little finger which bodes well for my current life choices. People are surprised when they see me in the supermarket and I explain that isn’t unusual as I do the weekly shop. I perhaps fall into this mindset myself as my wife is a very competent mother but comparison is the death of joy and I’ll just have to learn to clean the bathroom to a higher standard. I do sometimes wonder if I’m really a very natural parent but I think this is partly personality. The more I research about my personality, the more I realise I just need to step up to the plate and change my mindset – to daily remind myself what is important, to learn to prioritise and to find the joy in daily tasks that I used to despise as they took me away from more ‘exciting’ projects. As I said previously, I think the more you are at peace with yourself, the greater your resilience to stereotype threats.


We also see examples of fathers being over-praised for taking on parental responsibilities or brought down to a menial level with comments such as ‘ oh is daddy babysitting today?’ How do you or would you respond to such comments?

I’ve not really experienced either of these much, which is great. This question does highlight the archaic attitudes of people towards parenting. I dread to think how hard those people are working to meet the societal expectations discussed earlier… I just think it must be much more emotionally taxing to have that sort of attitude than to actually engage with societal change? I think I’m of the opinion that we just need to embody the change we want to see, to showcase a different way forwards and to question archaic attitudes when we encounter them.   



What actions can we all take to steer away from traditional roles and views and pave the way for more balance and freedom in our choices?

I think at this point, everyone who wants to see a more balanced society needs to put on their big boy pants (as it were) in the knowledge that they are still in the minority and challenges will be prevalent. If we can live out the changes we want to see then others might eventually catch on – I believe we have to show examples of gender equality not just talk about it, to live it, to take on the challenge of being different, to tell positive stories and share positive models both at home and in business. We all have a part to play whether it’s through becoming a stay at home dad, having more awareness of unconscious bias, leading a more diverse team, letting go of unhelpful prevailing attitudes or just being less of an arse to those we work with. The world will be a better place if greater balance can be achieved.   



 James’ blog, Renaissance Dad, is about a dad who’s learning the skills to be a primary carer, keeper of the house, cook and gardener. Follow his journey here or connect with him on LinkedIn.


We’ll be catching up with James again later in the month to delve further in to harmful male stereotypes, societal pressures and expectations of what a man should be and we’ll explore actions we can take to pave the way for better balance. Stay tuned….