YEARS ago my mother badly sprained her arm and, for the first and last time my father tried to do some ironing.

Since he had never done any housework except a little cooking it was an unusual sight to see him standing behind the ironing board, where I had always seen my mum on Sunday evenings, at work on our school uniforms.

It took him about three times as long to iron a shirt as it took my mum, but he seemed pleased with himself when he’d finished one, and held it up for Mum’s approval – until she pointed out that he’d missed one sleeve.

It at least gave him an insight into what housework involves, and that it can be a physically demanding and skilled job.

Now it seems that more men than ever are gaining that insight. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of househusbands is on the rise.

The figures for stay-at-home dads are up by a third since the Covid lockdown made most of us stay-at-home people.

One in nine of those households with a stay-at-home parent now have a stay-at-home dad, compared to one in 14 before Covid.

Between July and September 2022 there were around 141,000 fathers doing the housework and not in paid jobs, compared to 104,000 in the same period in 2019.

It is of course one of the after-effects of the pandemic, and to my mind it’s no bad thing. The lockdown has led us all to reconsider the nine-to-five, Monday to Friday working pattern that has been the norm for years, and to ask if there are other ways of organising things.

But it wouldn’t work for me. Personally I like to keep work life and home life as separate as possible, and would sooner stay in the office late than leave early and take work home with me.

Enforced working from home during 2020 made me feel rather uncomfortable. The walk home from work is the only significant exercise I get and lockdown deprived me of that. But I’m unlikely to become a stay-at-home dad in any case, since you have to be a dad first.

Nowadays women can do most of the jobs that men do and men can do most of the jobs women can do, except give birth and breastfeed. So there’s little need for the old division of labour between the sexes.

I suppose two generations ago it made sense for mums to look after the house and dads to be breadwinners. Jobs as coal miners or farm labourers required physical length, or at least brute force, and so men tended to be more capable of them.

Houses had to be cleaned, dinners had to be made, and bread had to be won. If men had to be the breadwinners then women could be the homemakers.

There may no longer be a need for that split, though it would probably have never occurred to our grandparents’ generation that anything else was possible. In fact both my grandmothers had paid jobs, in shops or as cleaners. But they still did – and expected to do – all the household chores.

It must surely be better for children if their fathers are at home more often during the day. Aren’t they bound to have a more positive relationship with them than if they only see them in the evenings or at weekends?

What’s obvious is that as career options have widened for women it hasn’t taken long for them to rise to the top.

More women than men are winning places at the country’s highest-powered universities.

All our major political parties, the UK-wide ones and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish ones, either have now or have had women leaders, apart from Labour and the Ulster Unionists – although Labour has had three female deputy leaders.

Ursula von der Leyen is president of the European Commission, Christine Lagarde is president of the European Central Bank and Kamala Harris is vice-president of the USA. One of the world’s most widely admired politicians is New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern.

The gender balance in parliament is not quite where it should be, with only a third of our MPs women compared to half the general population. But at least it’s better now than it was 26 years ago, when female MPs were outnumbered by men called John.

There are plenty of clever women out there, possibly more than there are men. And the only way the world can benefit from their talents is if more men opt to stay at home.