It’s a world away from the set of Eastenders. But for Andrew Watson nappy-changing, bottle-feeds and playgroups have become the norm.
The writer and actor has proved he can take on any role including stay-at-home dad. Now the father-of-two has decided to share the ups and downs of parenthood from a man’s perspective in his new book Down to Earth with a Bump: The Diary of a First-Time Dad.
Based on a blog he wrote, it chronicles the anxieties of pregnancy, the elation of the birth and the first testing 12 months of a child’s life all through the eyes of a dad. Andrew admits: “I had succumbed to the idea of having children and thinking ‘well it’s something I will do one day’.
“Naturally, I’m very glad I did. But at the time, I slept-walked into it.”
The realties of looking after his baby daughter Polly, now four, only sank in when his GP wife Zoe went back to work after seven months leaving Andrew holding baby.
“Zoe went back to work four days a week and I was full-time at home with Polly, which was quite a shock”, he said.
As any new mother knows, being home alone 24/7 with a baby can be at best exhausting and at worst exasperating. The support network of mums you meet through ante and post-natal classes can be crucial.
But for dads, it seems you really are on your own and often regarded with suspicion. Andrew, who lives in Southfields, south west London, explained: “I would go to the park to wait for friends and you would hear a child say ‘Mummy, there’s a man in the park.’
“You see a lot of grandparents pushing prams and you see a lot of nannies pushing prams. But it’s a bit sad you don’t see more fathers pushing prams. It can be quite isolating being a man looking after children during the day.”
However, it’s a situation which is slowly changing and will no doubt be hastened by the arrival of shared maternity and paternity care. From April, dads will be able to take up to six months of any unused maternity leave after the mother returns to work. Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg wants to see this go further with 46-weeks of leave shared equally between parents from 2015. Despite his own early difficulties, Andrew believes dads shouldn’t be afraid to get more involved in childcare.
He said: “Dads are realising the benefits of getting involved from the beginning. Aside from giving birth and breast-feeding, there’s nothing a woman could do that a man can’t when it comes to being a parent.
I’m in favour of a move to increase equality for dads so they can share time off with their kids, if it’s not going to affect them financially.”
Since the birth of his second child Tom almost a year ago, the 33-year-old has managed to find time to write both Down to Earth with a Bump and a teach yourself guide entitled Be a Great Dad which was published last November. Aimed at new dads, it offers objective advice on being a father.
But as Andrew admits: “As soon as you present a round belly to the world, everyone starts to give you parenting advice. My advice is to listen to it but feel free to reject it.”
It’s this common sense approach which has seen him in demand as a parent spokesman in the media and for toy manufacturer Lego. He has also continued acting – something he originally trained to do after university at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. However, he recently found drama spilled over into real-life when his intermittent role as the long-arm of the law in Eastenders saw him embroiled in the baby-swapping scandal. Approaches by newspapers and radio for him to make comment on the controversial storyline had to be declined when it was revealed he was Walford Square’s sometime policeman and bound by BBC contractual obligations. With two books already under his belt, Andrew has just begun his first novel in between childcare duties.
He is also in the process of selling up and moving his family back to his homeland of Scotland. Proof, if it were needed, mums aren’t the only ones who can multi-task.
*Down to Earth with a Bump: The Diary of a First-Time Dad is available to order on Amazon and will be out on May 25th.
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