David* was working in a management consultancy when his first child, a daughter, was born. “My wife and I believed that we needed at least one parent at home to care for our child and since my work allowed for such flexibility, I decided to become the primary caregiver.” Another child followed some years later.
Striking a balance between work and parenthood proved a struggle at first. “I had to adjust my time for meeting with clients because when my children were little, it wasn’t about prioritising my time, but the babies’ time. And unavoidably, meetings would sometimes have to be rescheduled.
“But I was lucky to have the support of my extended family to help care for my children when I was busy. As and when I needed to meet with clients, I’d send them to my in-laws’ and pick them up once my meetings were concluded. This was something I did up until both my children were grown.”
When asked if he had played a pivotal role in shaping his children’s perceptions of traditional gender roles, David says, “My children don’t question it. They understand that their mother is a wage-earner and can’t be with them as much as she would love to. She works till late, and the meal preparations as well as the fetching to and from school, it’s all me. My children have grown to accept it.”
David also addresses the misconceptions surrounding his role as the primary caregiver. “It’s actually very difficult for people to understand. I see to my children’s needs while also earning a living, but people can’t see that. The general assumption is that I’m free all the time just because I’m at home. Even my closest friends would often misunderstand.
“But interestingly, I don’t get comments suggesting that women take better care of children – the comments I’ve received thus far have been positive. I come from a big family and because I helped care for my younger siblings back in the day, the role came quite naturally to me. But for people to have the misconception that a mother can do a better job caring for the children, I’d say that it’s subject to the individual.
“Most modern fathers – and I’ve come across a few – are working and helping out at home. It’s quite an accepted thing for men to do nowadays. Maybe the older generation might have the misconception that rearing children is the women’s job, but in today’s world, men can do it just as well.” – David
“Most modern fathers – and I’ve come across a few – are working and helping out at home. It’s quite an accepted thing for men to do nowadays. Maybe the older generation might have the misconception that rearing children is the women’s job, but in today’s world, men can do it just as well.”
Moe Nasrul, 33, was enjoying a thriving career in the entertainment industry in KL as a radio personality and TV host. That all changed when he made the decision to move to Penang following the birth of his son three years ago.
“My wife and I had a long-distance relationship even when we were engaged and married – she is based in Penang and I was working in KL. So, there was no way for a proper family unit to exist unless one of us decided to quit our job. My wife actually offered to maintain the long-distance arrangement in that we’d see each other every weekend, or if it wasn’t during the weekend, I’d take a week off to spend time with the family.
“But around that time, there was also talk about my wife getting promoted. Comparing salary to salary, her promotion was a much better package, so I made the decision to quit and move to Penang.”
Moe recalls the first year parenting his son: “It wasn’t easy. I struggled with my decision for the first 16 months. Parenting can be an isolating experience – it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, parenthood can drive you crazy.
“I went through depression during the first year – I felt that my life had no direction, and I suddenly empathised with a lot of my female friends who were also going through similar situations. A few friends were going through depression as well, and when we talked about it, I realised that it’s not a male or female thing – it’s whoever that’s the homemaker. For those who switched from pursuing their careers to become homemakers, there’s that loss of the Ego, the Self.
“When you’re in your 20s you find yourself in this habit-cycle, and when you break away from the things that used to give you ‘value’, i.e. your job and friends, that’s when the depression hits. One of the reasons why I was finally able to get out of my depression was because I realised that life is not a checklist. You can still accomplish your goals – it’s just that the way you go about achieving them will be different. You have to learn to adapt to certain situations; I wouldn’t say I’ve perfected it, but at the current moment, I am doing it.”
Moe also got together with a couple of friends who started an e-sports association. “I began working with people on community-level tournaments, and over the past 11 months, that spun off to something a little bit bigger. We’re currently working with the Ministry of Youth and Sports to organise a tournament in Penang. We’re also in talks with a few companies to organise a really big one later in the year – all these done while bringing my son around.
“When people ask me if I am a stay-at-home father, I find this very complicated to explain because I’m not exactly sitting at home, but I’m not exactly not taking care of my child either. I won’t recommend it for everyone though – I won’t even recommend it to women who don’t feel they are ready for parenthood.”
* The subject does not wish to be named.
Regina Hoo is a Broadcasting and Journalism graduate from the University of Wolverhampton.