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‘I know the kids so much better now, there’s no going back for me’

Even so, does he hope to continue the increased time at home to bond with kids? Mr Orbons doesn’t hesitate: “Absolutely definitely. This did improve the way I spend time with the kids and at home.”

He is experiencing what Associate Professor Richard Fletcher, head of the Fathers and Families Research Program at the University of Newcastle calls a “Rosie the Riveter” moment for fathers – as the pandemic pushes men home like war pushed women into work.

Blake Woodward earlier this year at home with three-year-old son Samuel Woodward and eight-month-old daughter Michaela.

Blake Woodward earlier this year at home with three-year-old son Samuel Woodward and eight-month-old daughter Michaela.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Although many have found the juggle extremely frustrating, Professor Fletcher is optimistic men will be more likely to ask for flexibility or paternity leave as part of “a trend towards valuing your time with your children more”.

Blake Woodward, a management consultant and founder of the fatherhood “social initiative” SuitTieStroller, confirms that the insight and closeness fathers have gained with children is likely to lead many to want permanent change.

Mr Woodward surveyed 320 fathers to ask how lockdown had changed their parenting and found 85 per cent of those living with their children “experienced a positive impact on their bond with their kids” and want to keep building on it.

“It’s had a profound effect on their relationships with their kids,” he says. “Most (81 per cent) dads said they felt more motivated and proactive about building that bond due to the big impact of working flexibly. Now they want more.”

Dads said they felt more motivated and proactive about building that bond due to the big impact of working flexibly. Now they want more.

Fatherhood ‘social initiative’ founder and management consultant Blake Woodward

Only three per cent of fathers who replied to Mr Woodward’s survey said they wanted their work-parenting lives to go back to the way they were before lockdown.

“They mostly found something from COVID that they wanted to take forward; 67 per cent wanted more time with kids in future, 49 per cent wanted to increase their caring responsibilities,” said Mr Woodward, who is on paternity leave after the birth of his second child, daughter Michaela.

Fathers were so serious about being more involved after their experience in lockdown that 84 per cent said they were ready to make real life decisions to make it happen such as changing jobs or asking employers to embed flexible arrangements.

“They were considering this a line in the sand: yes, I’m doing this,” he said. “It was finally that lightbulb moment for a lot of dads that this flex working thing could be for them and this was doing away with the stigma.”

There’s a much deeper appreciation to how challenging life can be keeping the home front going; how time-consuming, how exhausting and wonderful it can be,

Rob Sturrock, fatherhood advocate and author

Mr Woodward says during the extended time with Michaela and Blake, 3, he has “seen a massive change in the way they relate to me, and continue to relate to me, based on the amount of time I’ve been able to spend with them”.

“With time in the role [of hands-on carer] you develop the skills and capabilities to care for and read their needs, especially in the early years when things are changing so fast.”

While fathering experts told The Sunday Age that Millennial dads were the driving force of change, David Wilkinson, a medical specialist, said he has very much enjoyed being home with his second set of children (something he could not do when his now-adult children were little) and will change his work routine at least a bit to allow this to continue.

David Wilkinson, a medical specialist, will change his work routine to spend more time with his youngest children.

David Wilkinson, a medical specialist, will change his work routine to spend more time with his youngest children.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

“When things go back to normal I’d imagine there’d be a lot of men saying ‘I’m going to work from home [some of the time] to at least be present at home’ … There will be an expecation there’s more to life than work.”

Rob Sturrock, a fathering advocate and author of the 2020 book Man Raises Boy, said being more closely linked to children’s routines during lockdown will “change the mindset of a lot of dads”.

“From what I’ve seen there’s a much deeper appreciation to how challenging life can be keeping the home front going; how time-consuming and exhausting and how wonderful it can be,” said the father of two. “The veil has dropped for a lot of men.”

Men who could do so were likely to be “quite adamant about changing things inside their work cultures and demanding more flexibility”, and when lockdowns ended they wanted to be home more in daylight hours to experience their kids’ lives.

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“One dad was telling me this week he used to travel interstate and was in and out the door rushing with quick hellos and goodbyes to the kids, and he now has breakfast every day with them, makes them lunch and leaves little notes in their lunchboxes and he said, ‘I know the kids so much better now, there’s no going back for me’.”

Father of two, author, and co-founder of the fathering community The Father Hood, Luke Benedictus, said during the lockdowns working while fathering has become so acceptable that the regular sight of kids busting into meetings was now unremarkable.

“It’s dissolved the boundaries between work and home, everyone’s had a Zoom call gate-crashed by a rampaging toddler but the biggest single take-out is no one really seems to mind,” he said.

This acceptance that fathers can and should be able to participate in home life as well as professional life would make a lasting impact on how free many felt to do it, he said.

Lockdowns had accelerated changes already under way for many younger fathers, who wanted more than ever to there for themselves and kids.

“We have a lot more permission to see ourselves in an emotional relationship with our children; the rise of the hands-on dad is a revolution of the deepest kind.”

An update to the Australian Institute of Family Studies’ Families in Australia: Life During Covid-19 study, released on Saturday, found 61 per cent of dads reported spending more time on helping children with learning and schoolwork, and more than a third (34 per cent) were “spending more time having meaningful conversations” with them.

The institute’s director, Anne Hollonds, said while the overall volume of time spent on housework and childcare by fathers during the first lockdown was not greater, she was “optimistic” that as the Victorian lockdown dragged on, norms and patterns would change.

“As things start to ease up, I’m pretty sure you’re going to see more dads wanting to pick up their kids from school and kindy and be more involved with the kids. I just don’t think we’ve captured this yet,” she said.

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