Working dads: ‘It feels like I’m missing a huge chunk of her life’
We asked fathers about the aspects of parenting you find difficult and what you are doing well
Fergal Lenehan: ‘We live in Germany where there is a great Kindergarten system, but we have no family support here.’
It’s Father’s Day on Sunday. While we hear a lot about the struggles, juggles and joys of working mothers, working fathers can often be left out of the conversation. So this week we asked fathers about the aspects of parenting you find difficult and the things you feel you are doing well.
Here’s what you had to say.
Desmond Gilhooly, Dublin: ‘My daughter reminds me when I am giving her less attention than she deserves’
I commute across the city by public transport as it is the exact same time as driving, but much less stressful. Even still it has its challenges. I am lucky that I have a flexitime arrangement so I start very early in the morning, but it means that I’m back at a reasonable hour in the evening (just before 5). There is also flexibility around family issues and I have been lucky that my managers have allowed a lot of leeway when necessary.
Balancing home and work is a problem, after unemployment during the crash, when I returned to work I was checking my email and logging on to work and doing overtime to prove my worth. Sometimes I would be responding to issues until 10pm! It’s improving now and more often than not I tend to switch off work almost as soon as I’m out the door. My daughter is also very good at reminding me when I am giving her less attention than she deserves.
At work there are only three of us who are parents and all are dads, we discuss the hi-jinks and misadventures of raising kids at least once a week if not more often. My biggest challenges centre around the “special” days like the first day of school (missed it as I had a meeting I felt I couldn’t miss), sports days, etc. I try to make as much as I can and get involved with her after-school activities where possible (beavers for instance), but it still feels like I’m missing a huge chunk of her life. My proudest achievement is my daughter being the intelligent, kind and caring girl that she is.
Fergal Lenehan, Leipzig, Germany: ‘We have no family support here’
I find it very difficult when the kids are sick. We live in Germany where there is a great Kindergarten system, but we have no family support here and, thus, no grandfather or grandmother who can just jump in at a moment’s notice and take over the sick kids. I work more flexibly, and usually from home, which means that I normally mind the kids if illness strikes. To get my work done this often means then working late into the night. Exhausting.
Our eldest has been very sick the past year and I’ve spent five weeks in hospital with her. It has been a challenge to keep her spirits up (and my boss happy). During one of the trips we shared a room with a Syrian dad and his four-year-old daughter, who was recovering from a chemical weapons attack. That really did put things into perspective, though.
Paul: ‘As a Daddy there is societal pressure to be the provider for the family’
I am a stay at home daddy to two wonderful young kids. It is both demanding and rewarding and each day can have its mini trials and tribulations. My tolerance levels have greatly improved and I no longer sweat over the small stuff since minding them. Of course it isn’t all fun and games and all in harmony. Many a day ,I am clock-watching and pacing the hall till my wife returns home from work so I can “ hand-over”. Self-care has become the new buzz term and my own version of this keeps me energised when minding the kids.
My wife and I are both strong believers in having a strong and traditional family unit and it’s this belief and reflection on our own childhood rearing that less time in creche and more time with Daddy and Mammy if possible is essential. As a Daddy there is a societal pressure to focus on career and be the provider for the family but I believe this can wait, as my kids won’t be kids for long. When I get older and grey and reflect on this precious moment looking after my kids for a brief time, I will think of the Kinks song “thank you for the days, those endless day you gave me”.
Larry Schooler, Fort Lauderdale, US: ‘I find it difficult to give them energy after work’
I work for a firm that honours my family commitments, and I rarely feel as if I have to choose between work and family. I am given the flexibility I need to work from home where needed, or take a day to care for a sick child, and so on. I can talk freely at work about these issues as well. My biggest challenges as a father are striking a balance between boundaries/discipline and autonomy for the kids. I want to create an environment where they feel like they talk to me as they would a friend, but also where they understand what I believe is the right thing to do.
I also struggle with patience; I get angry more quickly than I should and let my anger show more strongly than I’d like. I also find it difficult to give them as much energy as I would like to after work or even on weekends. My wife and I work hard and travel a decent amount, and I often just need evenings and weekends to rest, and I don’t give them the kind of attention I would like to give them.
My biggest achievements include the strength of our boys’ relationships with one another, the positive reports we get about them from their teachers, and their interest in some of my interests like faith and sports. I also love when my oldest comes running up to hug me when I volunteer in his classroom.
J McAuley: ‘My biggest fear is not having enough memories to look back on’
We welcomed our first born last year, he has recently turned one. Both my wife and I work full-time Monday to Friday and it’s fair to say we both find it difficult to juggle all of the change and challenge of the past 13+ months. One of the biggest struggles is seeing our son develop and progress, quite often when you’re not around to witness it first-hand. My biggest fear is missing this period of his life or not having enough memories to look back on whilst he is at this stage. I try to be strict and leave work each day to ensure I make it home for some time together before bedtime, conscious that my wife needs the support and assistance too. Quite often this can mean just 15-30 minutes together before his bedtime. But seeing him waiting at the door/window at home each day is easily the highlight of my day, and helps me to forget any strife or trouble I’ve encountered during the day.
While time with him is often short, we try to make the most of it as a small family. Our weekends are precious and as he becomes more aware of the world around him, I’m keen to help him explore more of it. I’m lucky as my employer offers numerous supports, not just to mums. Things like ‘Parent & Carer’ Networks have been setup to give men and women an outlet and a supportive environment to seek advice and share experiences. I’m grateful that there is also an empathetic and understanding environment, where he has been poorly or needed one of us to remain at home.
As a new father, I do feel appreciated. My wife very often reminds me that I am doing a good job (we both are!) and I try to support her as much as possible, whether its with his meals, logistics, planning or just being there to take over if needed.
Andrew Doyle: ‘Mums are still in the vast majority at the school gates’
My daughter was six when her mother, my wife, died. I used to have a job I loved with significant international travel that I had to give up to be a full-time single parent. The bereavement councillor said I was mourning the loss of my career as well as my wife. Now I have a local part-time job that allows me to parent successfully and life is good.
I live in a rural community that may be more traditional than the Dublin I left a long time ago. Mums are still in the vast majority at the school gates, on the parents’ committees and organise the children’s social calendars and birthday parties (I call it mums-net which is a challenge for a dad). More mums have the flexible working arrangements and I am very conscious of the stories in the media of mothers who feel they are discriminated against as parents. I share their pain, even though I am not a mum. I see it as a parenting issue regardless of gender.
Just one example, when I went to renew my daughter’s passport I found that if I was a widowed mother I could just sign the form but as a widowed father I had to jump extra hurdles, including getting an affidavit from a solicitor that I had no guardianship issues for my daughter. I complained that this was unfair discrimination against fathers. Next time I came to renew her passport I found the system had changed, except now widowed mothers get the same treatment.
We should stop talking about mums and dads. We are parents. If gender quotas are required for employment and politics to get “equality” for women, then should we consider the same for fathers? Or should we support normalising the better practise of other EU countries where parental leave is just that, for the parents to decide how it should be shared? It may take some time for Irish family life and particularly family law to catch up with equality for both parents.
It often feels like family law for fathers is still where employment law was for women in the 1970s. It would be unthinkable now to dismiss certain employment as “boy’s jobs” or “girl’s jobs” so I am disappointed for fathers everywhere and particularly single fathers in positions like mine when I hear or read of mothers’ issues and the challenge of being a mother. Many fathers have those issues too. I am encouraged that more fathers are now at the school gates, more families where a father takes the part time role as the mother has a higher paid career. But parental leave is very skewed against fathers, family law actively discriminates against fathers where in around 95 per cent of cases that mother gets the children and the father gats the bills.
Our legislators have done much since the 1970s to make the law gender neutral for the benefit of women and on sexual orientation. The next logical step is to make parenting law gender neutral too. I am a parent doing the role of father and mother. I could do without the law making that harder than it already is.
Tony G, Dublin: ‘My family is the biggest job I’ll ever have’
My wife is a hero. For nearly a decade she’s lived with a chronic pain condition. Almost ten years ago a consultant told us what was wrong and arranged for the minor procedure that’d fix it. Somewhere around procedure number four, a pain management nurse told us that we might have to “accept a diagnosis of an undiagnosed condition”.
In my head, I used to be one of the property funds I once sold so many of. A solid investment, with great returns and pay rises every year in the shape of upward only rent reviews. After the Celtic Tiger crash, that all went away. I didn’t lose my job, I got merged. Merging was a cool way of saying reapply for your job at the expense of a colleague’s. The wheels kept turning, a new job rolled on to a new job. I bought more management speak books and learned inspirational quotes like, “success is going from failure to failure with no discernible loss of enthusiasm”. Inside, I was a mess.
Things at home were hard. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, I was a jerk. I cringe at the self-pity now. Imagine, while my wife was only beginning to come to terms with not having proper terms for her illness, I was playing the world’s smallest violin as loudly as possible. I was a fool.
A phone call came, a Big Job was offered. He gave me one hour. I’d seen people go to Big Jobs. I remember asking one of them if they liked the face they saw in the mirror. Another cried in my office the day he got his Big Job. His marriage had ended and he knew right then that the price he paid for the Big Job was not being able to call home to share in his moment.
We have two wonderful kids. They were only babies back then. Kids, I remember thinking during that hour, that if I took this Big Job, I’d probably not see growing up. I rang the Big Man back, explained my family situation and declined the job offer. I’ve moved companies several times since then. I can work from home a lot these days. At home, we still don’t have a diagnosis. But we have two amazing kids who I have seen grow up and who I couldn’t love more. My wife has a support system around her, she still has a great sense of humour and an optimism I envy. I still mess up all the time. But we keep going, together, as a family. It’s only now, writing this, that I realise I never turned down the Big Job. I actually just stepped up to the plate in the Biggest Job I’ll ever have, my family. I hope they keep me on for a while longer.