CULTURE MATTERS

Fathers role on

I'VE recently become a father for the second time. More years of wet nappies, sleepless nights, and tears. Hard work, though the attention given to children has great rewards: the sheer joy I feel from having a new baby is well worth all the chores.
In Britain, where I come from, men are nowadays expected to play a full role in caring for babies, according to the concept of the "New Man".

I'VE recently become a father for the second time. More years of wet nappies, sleepless nights, and tears. Hard work, though the attention given to children has great rewards: the sheer joy I feel from having a new baby is well worth all the chores.

In Britain, where I come from, men are nowadays expected to play a full role in caring for babies, according to the concept of the "New Man". This was something that emerged about 15 years ago. The idea is that men should take on a greater share of household chores and child-rearing duties.

The nurturing role, the traditional if not "natural" preserve of women, is undergoing changes. With equal opportunities on the rise, women are eager - and able - to get back to work within a month of giving birth. Fear of losing their jobs, being demoted or having their incomes cut are all factors driving these changes.

Many men are finding themselves feeding, changing, placating and burping babies. Still, men almost never spend more time with their children than women, unless they take advantage of maternity leave, which some countries allow.

But I don't know of a single culture in which fathers in general spend more time with their children than mothers.

One reason some men get married is to find surrogate mothers: someone to cook and clean for them; a voice reminding them to pick up their socks.

In a patriarchal society such as Greece, for example, men seem to think that wives should magically possess the same skills, attributes and knowledge as mothers.

A Greek colleague of mine once complained about her husband. "He expects me to cook Hungarian goulash. I've no idea how to do it. Just because his mother knows how to make it he thinks I can," she said.

Perhaps if fathers spent more time with their children, boys would grow up with fewer expectations of being mothered by their wives. But maybe there is more to it than that.

Fathers relations with babies would perhaps strengthen as well.

An English friend once told me that he only started having a meaningful relationship with his daughter when she started to talk and was able to act independently. Babies, he said, are the natural realm of women.

I'm not sure if this is true but I do know that the love I have for both my children is unconditional. However, what I really enjoy is the interaction, the play and the talk, with my eldest, who is four at the end of this month.

In Austria, fathers make a point of spending as much free time as possible with their children as well as their wives. On weekends, one sees gaggles of kids on bikes, riding behind their sporty parents, all in the pursuit of familial and individual happiness.

And Slovak fathers? A friend of mine who has been here for eight years told me: "It is difficult to say, but there is a lot of sentimental crap about mothers. Fathers are not really considered. Maybe they are travelling too often for work, or at the pub."

I suspect that with increasing affluence and changes in work practices, the role of Slovak fathers will follow that of Britain. I already see evidence of that in Bratislava: smart chaps dressed for work dropping off their kids at kindergarten.

The real challenge facing parents in today's world is to find quality time to spend with our children and to recapture, over time, the ecstasy felt when they first entered the world.

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