For our fourth provocation Robert Softley Gale, Artistic Director, Birds of Paradise Theatre Company shares his thoughts on adaptability across working life and parenting life. Over to Robert…
A few weeks ago my twin boys turned one. I remember thinking way back – before they were born and all this madness started – that after the first year it’d be so easy. And yes, I can hear every parent who is reading this now laughing their heads off!
“As a theatre maker and director I’m used to adapting to the situation, and as a disabled man I’ve spent my life having to negotiate my way around barriers and solve problems.”
On the day my kids were born the midwife gave their mum and me the best piece of advice: “As soon as you think you’ve worked it out, they’ll change.” A sadistic part of me loves this about being a dad: the unpredictability of what’s coming next and the constant need to be adaptable. As a theatre maker and director I’m used to adapting to the situation, and as a disabled man I’ve spent my life having to negotiate my way around barriers and solve problems. I’ve often argued that disabled people can make great managers and leaders for this very reason, as we’re so practiced at having to make things work in difficult and hostile environments that we can be a great asset in the workplace.
I spend a lot of my working life asking organisations to be more adaptable – to make themselves accessible physically, attitudinally and to really examine their procedures. In the past year I’ve realised we’ve only scratched the surface of what adaptability could mean. I know such change can be challenging in some ways but I also find it really exciting.
“Letting go of “how it should work” has helped me not to go insane.”
I’m acutely aware, as the first father to post in these series of blogs, that I shouldn’t “teach mother hens how to suck eggs.” Having said that, I’m “in charge” of the kids 42% of the week so here are just a few observations of the ways I’ve had to adapt during the first year:
- Baby-time and work-time exist in completely different realms. I don’t know if the kid is going to sleep in the next ten minutes or the next two hours, so I need whoever I’m going to do a Zoom meeting with to be as flexible as possible.
- Letting go of “how it should work” has helped me not to go insane. Of course routine and “rules” are important, but I’ve found myself frequently asking why I was so adamant that things had to be a certain way. This has made me better at my job too.
- Humans adapt; tiny humans adapt very well. With my impairment I’ve got pretty crap coordination and so things like feeding and changing nappies were going to be a challenge. I spoke to other disabled parents, did some research online, banished all poppers from the wardrobe and replaced them with zips. Things can still be tough but nothing is beyond possible.
- I’ve got an incredible network of support, from family and friends to live-in support. At each point during the last year I’ve tried to step back and ask what support is needed to give my kids the best experience. Asking for help has been absolutely key to this.
“As a disabled dad, in particular, I want to share the possibilities and the practicalities of my experience as they relate to the whole of parenting.”
The way that the mainstream talks about households and families needs to adapt. There are more men than ever who are caring for their children on an equal basis to mothers; there are single dads and kids with two dads. As male carers, we need to speak about our experiences so that the mainstream language that still automatically equates parenting and caring work with women doesn’t set back the progress we’ve made so far for everyone.
We also need to be encouraged to speak more. I often feel the need to apologise for hogging the space that mothers rightfully occupy a lot of the time, and that doesn’t help anyone. As a disabled dad, in particular, I want to share the possibilities and the practicalities of my experience as they relate to the whole of parenting. The more specific, nuanced and supportive stories we can share and hear, the better. That’s what I believe as a theatre artist, as an activist, and as a dad who’s planning my early morning playtime routine.
Robert Softley Gale is the Artistic Director at Birds of Paradise Theatre Company, Scotland’s inclusive touring theatre company, working with disabled and non-disabled professional artists.
“…the production, co-directed by McKnight and Robert Softley Gale, has no time for such soppiness; it is rude, ribald and hilariously off-colour, and bodes tremendously well for the new directorship of Birds of Paradise.” The Guardian
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