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Welcome the third and final interview in the series for March Male Carers Month and we are really lucky to have Brian Day with us today. Brian is a husband, father, and a working carer and campaigner supporting working carers in his workplace and across lots of different government departments.
I started by asking Brian about his experiences as a young carer and now as an adult working carer?
Brian shared that he had started his caring journey when he was 16-17 years old when he was caring for his Grandmother, who had dementia, however, that experience is very different to his caring role now, which for his wife who is deaf/blind. Brian reflected that the different nature of those caring roles was important. His relationship with his wife, was as a normal married couple, so that did make the caring element of it easier. However, for both caring roles, there was definitely an element of feeling embarrassed, on both parts, such as needing to carry out activities that a woman, particularly an older woman, like his Grandmother, would not normally ask someone else to do, such as assisting with toileting. As a young man, Brian shared that he did find this aspect of the caring role challenging, as his Grandmother was a very reserved Lady and due to the nature of her dementia, she increasingly needed support with personal care, particularly at night, which she found very upsetting and Brian felt that he had to be ‘the man’ and just deal with it, without support.
Brian reflected that he has been trying to balance the roles of husband, father and carer, while also being a good employee. Juggling all these different roles, he has found that sometimes people have a strange perception about his caring responsibilities, especially those who are not carers and they often say things like “Well, you’re a man, you shouldn’t be a carer, can’t you get somebody in?”. However, Brian is very clear that he doesn’t want or need ‘to get somebody in’! He shared that is very aware of his wedding vows and believes that caring for his wife is his responsibility and he embraces that. In some respects, he feels that it is a ‘job’ as well as his paid role and has been disappointed by the reactions by some of his managers, some saying “well you should be a man, you’ve got a career, you should be putting that first”. Brian is clear that caring is part of his life but he is also an employee and despite his wife sometimes needing to contact him for something when he is at work, that is what his focus is on while he working.
Next, I asked Brian if he has held back from talking to colleagues at work or in the past to line managers, that he is a working male carer because of the reaction of some managers?
Brian shared that actually, it was just the opposite! Receiving that kind of response made him even more determined to address the negativity about working carers in the workplace. When he became the communications lead in a government department he worked for, one of the first things he wanted to do, right from the start, was address the issue of managers not being aware of what a carer is, and what the role entails, especially for working men carers. He feels that there is a perception that if you are a carer, you must be a woman and that’s not true. We discussed the Carers UK statistics that nearly 50% of all unpaid carers are in fact men, however, they are far less likely to self-identify, which may be why so many people see the role as mainly being carried out by women.
He set about addressing that awareness, not only with managers but also by campaigning for male carers within his department, to encourage them to recognise themselves as carers. Brian felt that for many, it was, “well, actually, I’m just being a caring husband, or a caring father or a caring son”, or whatever relationship that was, and it is important for men to realise that it is okay to say, “I’m a male carer”. We both feel that society still seems to put people in boxes, such as women being the ‘carers, the nurturers’, and that men are the ones that go out to work, have the careers and are the protectors and that it was important that these narratives changed.
I then asked Brian if he could share some of the conversations he had had with his colleagues or line managers, to start changing the way they think about being a male working carer?
Brian felt that some of the conversations he had had were firstly around trying to get colleagues and managers to understand that men can be carers. He believed that this was one of the biggest hurdles for male working carers, getting over that perception of others that “this is what a man is, and men don’t do that sort of thing”. However, he shared that it has been tough sometimes, and he has been really frustrated and angry with people because they just don’t seem to understand or accept it. He does feel that to a certain degree it’s not their fault because it is the way society still portrays ‘carers’, even on recent news where female carers were shown working in care homes of those affected by COVID, when we know that there are many male social and health care professionals, however, they just don’t seem to be represented equally.
Next, I asked Brian what one piece of advice does he have for a male working carer, who perhaps doesn’t feel able to have that conversation with their line manager or even with their colleagues?
Brian was very sure that the most important things were: Don’t be afraid. Be proud of what you do. Embrace what you do, but Brian also reflected that it is difficult sometimes. Brian shared an example of when he goes out with his wife, sometimes people assume that he is training her guide dog! Again, it is back to people’s perception that if you are a man caring for somebody, then you must be being paid and that isn’t right. Brian shared when he first started a new role in the civil service, he didn’t want to talk about being an unpaid carer at first. In reflection, he feels there were several reasons for this. First, because he didn’t know how it would be received because these were people he had only just started working with. Second, because he was trying to separate his work life from his home life. Lastly, he felt in a small way he was embarrassed, but looking back at it now, he can’t understand why he was embarrassed, because there was no need to be embarrassed.
However, it came to the point where his colleagues were arranging activities at work, like going to the pub on a Friday afternoon and Brian couldn’t go at such short notice. However, rather than telling them why he couldn’t go with them, he would make up excuses about needing to get home for his children or he was going out with his wife. Eventually, it all came to a head when he had a one-to-one meeting with his line manager, and it turned out that a couple of his colleagues hadn’t been complaining but had expressed their thoughts that he wasn’t a team player, that he wasn’t approachable, and he wasn’t making an effort to fit in. It was at this point Brian realised that he had to do something, almost to ‘come clean’ as he described it and share with his line manager colleagues the real reason he couldn’t join in with team activities or had to leave work at short notice sometimes.
Brian shared that he was lucky that his line manager was really keen to make a difference and understood where he was coming from. So, although she didn’t pressure him, she was keen that he shared what was going on in his life with the team. Brian was honest with himself and realised that things weren’t going to get any better if he didn’t say anything and after thinking about it and felt that, yes, this was something he needed to do, not just for his line manager and his team but also for himself. So, he sat in a team meeting and shared openly with his colleagues, that although he desperately wanted to go for drinks with them or attend team dinners, he couldn’t do those things without some notice. He explained he needed to ensure that someone was there to support his wife if he did social things in the evening. He also felt it was necessary to share the reasons why this was important, explaining that as his was wife was nearly completely blind, it was frightening for her sometimes, so if he was on the phone, he wasn’t speaking with friends or wasting time, it was reassuring her or if he had to leave work at short notice, it is because something had happened to her. Having that conversation with his colleagues made such a difference. After that, they would make sure that they mentioned social events and activities to him well in advance and when he could, he was able to join in. So for him, it makes it even more important to be proud about being a male carer, but to ensure that you give your managers and colleagues a chance to support you.
Reflecting on his experience, Brian is realistic about how this worked for him and shared that he knows that it doesn’t always work like that. He feels strongly that if your line manager isn’t supportive, and he has experienced this a couple of times, don’t let them put you off. Go to your department head or human resources department, find out what their policy on care is and find out what support is available to you. Also, that if you want support from your manager, then you have to let them know and that means recognising you are an unpaid carer and telling them. However, if they aren’t supportive, don’t give up. Because it’s all too easy when you hit those hurdles, to just say, “Well, okay, if you’re not gonna pay attention, I’m just going to keep quiet and get on with my work.” But don’t give up, because you should be proud and you deserve support.
Another important reason for sharing that you are a carer with managers and colleagues, is that you never know that someone else might be in the same position and is also concerned about sharing this information with their company or even colleagues. By speaking up, it might give them the confidence to do the same, which could give them an opportunity of getting the support they need and perhaps even sharing their experiences with others they know will understand. Brian has experienced this himself with the work he does supporting carers across his, and other government departments. He has received emails from colleagues’ saying things like “Thank you, Brian, for speaking out, because it’s actually made me realise that I am the carer and that I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of and I’m going to have that conversation now.” Brian is a very modest man and doesn’t want to be thought of as a role model, but he does want to help others, so if somebody finds that courage after he does a presentation, which can sometimes be to over 150-200 people, and if just get one person say, “actually, I’m going to have that conversation with my manager, or I’m going to have a conversation with my colleagues.” That’s great for him. Brian shared that he is extremely proud of being a carer because he is making somebody’s life better, but he is making his own life better as well. Keep having those conversations and don’t let anybody dissuade you from speaking up, because it is part of who you are. Brian reflected that he has never let his caring responsibilities define him, they are part of who he is, but at the end of the day, he is ‘Brian’ and he is quite capable of being a worker, a carer, a husband and a father!
For us both, the pandemic has shown that we are a caring nation, we are a caring species. However, the reality is that more or more people, across the globe, are and will be taking on the role of an unpaid or working carer and 50% of those individuals are men. We just need to stop, think about and plan, for when the time comes and identity the parts of your life that are important, and you still want to do, even if you are a carer. If you want to work and you can work, then you should be able to do that in a supportive environment. But, if you don’t want to work, or if that’s not your focus or you can’t, then you need support in different ways and that’s something we will be looking at expanding on in future posts.
I am very grateful to Brian for sharing his very personal experiences and the great work he is doing. I will put details about how to learn more about Brian’s work in the resources section below. The main take-away from my conversation with Brian is NEVER be afraid to have THAT conversation at work. There is often a range of ways an organisation can support working carers, such as carers passports when you want to get a promotion or move within different departments or carer’s leave. Carers UK can also support you with information about how to approach your manager and Carers’ Hearts has an article about preparing to have that conversation. So, there is support out there but without people like Brian, working so hard to support working carers in the workplace and helping us with March Male Carers Month, then it would to be harder for everyone, so thank you to Brian for being a trailblazer for male working carers.
So, this is the last of the interviews and it’s the end of March 2021. This has been a really interesting focus month for us at Carers’ Hearts. However, it isn’t going to stop here! We’re going to continue to champion men’s mental health and particularly male carers mental health in the future. So, if you’d like to be involved, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, watch out for next year, we are going to be having an even bigger March Male Carers Month in 2022. So, again, if you’d like to be involved in that, or if you have got some ideas or you would like to be interviewed? Please do drop us a line. Again, thank you so much for reading and we hope you have enjoyed the whole month of interviews and workshops.
My name is Brian Day. I am a married man with two wonderful daughters. I am a Civil Servant but more importantly I am a lifelong Carer.
For more information about Brian’s role as a Wellbeing Champion supporting working carers, please click here
.Brian also sat as a panellist on a workshop the were running on Optimism, to read the article, please click here