By Jodi Bryant

Finding himself draped over the top of the cubicle in the women's toilets as three astonished women walk in, is just one of the awkward memorable antics of James White-Hughes day job.

But although he once had an exciting career in adventure tourism and marketing, James wouldn't change his role for anything.

James became a stay-at-home dad to his two daughters Scarlett, 5 and Tara, 3, when their mum, Becks, returned to her job as a doctor.

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"I've always looked at it as a privilege to have that time. My dad often worked overseas so I didn't see a lot of him. I saw it as an opportunity to form that foundation relationship with my kids," says James.

Originally from the UK, James first clapped eyes on Becks in Rotorua while in the audience at a musical show she was in. He met her backstage and the two went on to perform in shows together. They married, had two daughters in quick succession, then, in January this year, moved to Whangarei where Becks' family are from.

A newly-graduated doctor, her med school training required her to complete six months consecutive work at a hospital so the couple swapped roles.

"I took the challenge seriously and taught myself to cook decent meals. We got into a routine each day, which included swimming, and I would take the kids to playgroup several times a week in the morning. Then we'd go and see Becks and have lunch with her at work so she got to see the kids, before returning home where the kids would hopefully have a nap, although rarely were their sleep patterns synchronised," recalls James, 38.

"During this time, I'd make sure the house was clean and have a nice meal waiting for my wife when she came home from work. It wasn't until my friend became full-time in the role and did none of those things that I realised I was actually doing a pretty good job."

James says he never felt emasculated, although, being the only male at playgroup, the conversations were 'a bit limited'. And the role has come with its challenges, which is where the toilet scenario comes in.

"Having two girls, there are very little facilities for changing rooms for men so I'd have to take them into the women's toilets. As they got older, they wanted autonomy and both insisted they wanted to use the women's toilets themselves and, one time, they both synchronised locking themselves in. I had to climb over the cubicle in the women's toilets, at which point, three Indian women walked in and started berating me while I was half-hanging over trying to keep my balance and apologising while trying to keep my children calm!"

One of the aspects he finds bemusing about being a full-time dad are the compliments he receives from strangers.

"When people see a man with his children, they automatically assume you're a great dad and people come up to me in the supermarket and say: 'You're doing a great job' and it kinds of annoys me because nobody ever says that to a woman. People lavish you with praise and there seems to be this expectation with women so I challenge them and say: 'You don't know what goes on behind closed doors'."

Not that James seems to have anything to be ashamed about. As well as keeping a tidy home, despite the kids' best attempts at undoing it, he bakes with them, reads, role plays, rough and tumbles and then there's the endless loads of washing, which included reusable nappies.

So, come 5pm, is he quick to palm the kids off to his wife when she walks through the door?

"Becks has a physically and mentally-demanding job so I see it as a joint responsibility and we work as a team. When she gets home, we all eat dinner together, then it's onto bath time and putting them to bed with storytime."

Is there time for that much-needed couple's end-of-day debrief?

"Actually, whenever my wife reads to the kids, she'll often fall asleep with them," he laughs. "But, yeah, we eventually have a debrief and chat and I show her photos from the day and tell her anecdotes for their memory books. She's better at that sort of thing than me so I'll relate stories and she'll write them down.

"Becks has been amazing," he continues. "She breastfed for over four years in total between them, expressing milk for me for during the day, and is there for all the milestones, although she missed Scarlett's first steps. I didn't say anything and I took her into work the following day and said: 'Hey, maybe she should try to walk!' and, when it happened, Becks was elated and then asked if she had ever done anything like that before. I said: 'Noooo…' but she can read me so she knew."

Weekends are spent together as a family and, as most of their friends are in the same boat with children, catching up with friends involves playdates. But there is still time for individual interests.

"Since we moved to Whangarei, we've got a plethora of babysitters so that allows us more freedom. I do stand-ups and we both perform at poetry nights and do improv comedy together. Becks runs meditation as well."

So, what are the best and worst aspects of being a full-time dad?

"The worst would be the faeces side," answers James cringing. "Although we're past that stage now. It's kind of a lonely life. Essentially, you're there with your kids which is great but you often long for that adult interaction and conversation and I think lots of mums have mum's groups and there's not really one for dads. It's kind of easy to just go completely mad being parents. But I'll read quite a bit and I like committing things to memory like poetry.

"One of the things which used to frustrate me was when people talk about how angelic their children are. Whereas I'd be completely honest about the character flaws in my children. You've got to be real about it, I think, and retain a sense of humour. It's about not looking at parenthood through rose-tinted glasses. It's one of the hardest things you could possibly do and you know if you make a mistake if can be a lifelong thing with your children. It's a massive responsibility and, as long as you do your best, you've just got to forgive yourself for certain things."

And the best?

"It's getting to re-live your own childhood. It's like learning everything again because you forget why you understand really simple things until you have to explain it. It broadens your own understanding and appreciation of life, adding commentary to your children's experience with careful explanation, seeing their little minds and personalities grow and being able to nurture it, is great."

Though it's getting easier – the girls are in day care and school now – and the nocturnal nappy changes are behind them, like many parents, James would adore more sleep.

"I used to fantasise about Cameron Diaz, now it's just lying in bed!"