Daddy Daycare and A Dad Is Born – a fair portrayal of fathers?

Two documentaries on fatherhood assume their subjects are hopeless - but prove the opposite

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It’s easy to knock fathers. I’ve done it myself on plenty of occasions. Down at the playground where the mothers of the 0-5s seek solace, in my experience at least, it’s mostly grumbles.  

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Yes, dads are an easy target for worn-out wives and girlfriends but this week, two programmes seek to explore the challenges of fatherhood from the man’s point of view – although I can’t help thinking the audience for both will mostly be female.

Channel 4’s Daddy Daycare (tonight, 8pm) blatantly offers itself up to womankind as catharsis telly: three hands-off fathers try out as assistants at a busy south London nursery. But, amusing though it may be to us girls to see the men abandoned to hosts of over-excited toddlers for hours on end, the exercise hardly constitutes a lesson in parenting.

Garry, Stefan and Jay have been nominated by their exasperated partners for a dose of intensive kiddie time because each, in their own way, is dodging daddy duty at home. 

Wasters, you are encouraged to think – until you discover that workaholic Garry has MS and is ploughing all his diminishing time and energies into building a financially secure future for his children; and Stefan is resisting starting a family because his own father let him down and he’s scared he might repeat the pattern.

Isn’t it rather old-fashioned, and certainly patronising, to be making programmes that criticise men for anxieties and shortcomings that are just human? As for the “experiment”, even after ten years of mothering, if I had been confronted by the pandemonium of that nursery and its daunting schedule of mass naps, nappies and “urban dance” time, I would have made a bolt for the door.

To their credit, Garry and the gang do, quite effortlessly, the things that fathers have always been good at doing; messing about, breaking the rules and generally whipping up a good time.

A Dad Is Born: a Wonderland Film (tomorrow, 9pm, BBC2) presents a much more thoughtful view of fatherhood as three men experience the arrival of their first child. However, there is something a little manipulative in suggesting that the richer the father, the less involved he is with his child.

Millionaire Greg Secker’s worries about losing money while on paternity leave is edited to contrast unfavourably with struggling taxi driver Viktor Nyics’s almost slavish devotion to his wife. Viktor certainly comes over as a genuinely sympathetic character, but for all we knew he was driving his beloved nuts.

I have to admit to being quite surprised by the strength of emotion shown by all of the men, but then, for me – like many mothers I know – those early days of new life were so intense, everything else was just blotted out. It’s good to see the other side of the story.

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Ultimately, though, both documentaries leave you feeling that whatever we think of the fathers featured, they are just people, not a demographic, and only their children will know if they get it right.