Dubai: In the UAE, three days of paternity leave are granted to government employees, but there is no rule for private sector workers.
Is that the value placed on a father’s time with a newborn?
Ali Arjomandi, an Iranian business owner based in Dubai, has two children — a six-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter. When asked if he took time off when his children were born, he laughed and confessed to not being able to do so due to the nature of his work.
He said: “I did try to be away in the first two weeks. But, due to the type of work, I have to be there.”
As far as paternity leave is concerned, he believes culture plays a big role. In the Middle East, he believes that mothers usually take care of the child and so the topic of fathers getting time off isn’t discussed much.
Early involvement of fathers with their children has increased in recent times, as stated in a study published by the US-based National Institutes of Health. But, fathers may typically be considered to be the providers, thus missing in action during childbirth or first steps.
“In the West, I feel like there is more appreciation for women and so either the mother or father can be off. However, I would have liked to take more time off because it is a lot of hard work raising a child. I could help take some burden off my wife’s back.”
For Arjomandi, it becomes very hard to spend much time with his children during the week. However, he manages to squeeze in time for a bedtime story.
He said: “On a weekday, I just have half an hour with them. But, on the weekend, I make up by taking them out to participate in outdoor activities, if the weather is good, or take them to a mall.”
According to a report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Finland is the only country in the developed world where fathers spend more time with school-aged children than mothers, with the campaign ‘It’s Daddy Time’. The government offers fathers nine weeks of paternity leave, during which they are paid 70 per cent of their salary.
It may not seem like a trivial matter when a father is missing during a family dinner or picnic, but his absence has a big impact on the child. Researchers in the US-based Princeton University reached the conclusion that the absence of a father damages an individual’s telomeres, vital pieces of DNA that protect cells.
Masood Ahmad Khan, a Pakistani IT corporate solutions expert based in Dubai, has a five-year-old son. He also is unable to spend too much time with his child due to a busy schedule.
He said: “I am able to get around six hours with him and we play together, or sometimes go for a family outing. Either way, I interact with him quite a bit.”
He believes the Finnish campaign is a “fantastic idea”, as a child needs attention from both parents, not just the mum.
He said: “Every one has a different role. If the mum is there, the child would miss the father and vice versa. My child misses me when I’m not home and keeps asking about me.”
His wife, a homemaker, is responsible for taking care of their child through the day and so, is the primary caregiver. When his son was born, he had just started a new job and so was unable to get any leave. The first time he held his child was when he was 18 months old.
He said: “I missed the precious moment when he was born and then only saw him on video calls for more than a year. Now that they are here, I keep trying to find the time for him.”
Syed Azeem Shah, an email marketing analyst based in Abu Dhabi, is a father of a one-year-old son. Due to his daily commute between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, he only gets around four hours a day with his child during the weekdays. When he arrives home from work, it is time for his son to start “winding down”.
He said: “Since it is almost bedtime, we play a little to tire him out. I help him walk, will sometimes feed him or give him a shower, which is his favourite activity, and then it’s off to bed.”
Despite that, he describes his bond with his son as something special. He believes that his son, even at this young age, knows that his father has his back.
He said: “He knows that if he falls, his dad is there to catch him. I do wish I worked closer to home, so I could be more involved in his daily life, like dropping him to nursery or other activities with him. It’s one of my biggest regrets.”
When asked about his thoughts on paternity leave, he is totally onboard with Finland’s plan because in his opinion, it allows a father to spend time and bond with his newborn, while helping the new mother recover.
He said: “I wish they had something like that in the UAE, too, especially for expatriates, as for new parents there is a lot of paperwork involved when a child is born. When my son was born, I had two weeks off, so I was back to work almost immediately after his birth.”
Avishek Magar, a Nepalese national working as a delivery person in Dubai, is one of the many people living in the UAE who are away from their families. He has an 18-month-old son, who lives in his home country. Magar’s wife moved back after she got pregnant as it was easier for her to get help there. However, this means that Magar only gets to spend one month in a year with his son.
He said: “I took a month off when he was born and was very excited. I was able to help my wife with small things, like wash my son’s clothes. But, the next time I saw him, he was almost a year old.”
When he returns from his holiday, Magar says he misses his son a lot. Every day, he tries to make multiple video calls to his wife just to see them for a few minutes.
He said: “He has just started talking, so my wife sends me voice notes of him saying ‘papa’. I wish I was able to spend more time with him and I am considering bringing them here, when it is possible.”