A new exhibition of New Zealand fathers celebrates those who choose to stay at home, writes Joanna Mathers
He took two weeks, the first and second time around. A fortnight, then back to work, bye bye baby. There's a lifetime's worth of wonder contained in the first 12 months of babyhood; tiny tears, first smiles, tentative steps. And you can't capture a lifetime in 14 days.
So, when number three was on the way, he wanted in. And for five months, Dave Gascoigne, head of digital marketing, became Dave Gascoigne, stay-at-home dad.
The reasons were simple and complex. The desire to be there, to experience those moments. The desire to fight back against inequality, a worldview that posits a women's place as "at home with the kids".
Gascoigne's wife, Vanessa, works in a pharmaceutical company. Her work helps cancer patients. "It's much more important than what I do," he says. "She'd taken parental leave with both Frida (3) and Georgie (6). It was my turn when Monty was born."
He freely admits that he was lucky. Early last year, his employer, ANZ, started offering staff 26 weeks' paid parental leave (two years ahead of the government changes). It meant he was able to take five months off (starting when Monty was 5 months old) and let Vanessa go back to work.
Stay-at-home fatherhood was an unexplored universe, a new frontier. Gascoigne was picker-upper, wiper of tears, smoother of rough seas. On Tuesdays, he was Dad the musician, when he'd take his guitar (and baby) to entertain the pre-schoolers at Frida's St Heliers' kindy.
It was a wonderful, challenging, and foundation shattering.
"Some days were more difficult than anything I've ever experienced. When the three kids were all sick, I was trying to care for them alone and Ness was in Singapore for work . . . that was hard.
"But there were other times that were just so cool. It was summer, and I would take Monty to the park. I'd sit there with my coffee, he'd just be playing. I was never bored; there was always so much to do."
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Gascoigne's stay-at-home dad experience has been documented photographically as part of a new exhibition, Kiwi Dads. The idea originated in Sweden, with Swedish Dads, an exhibition showing stay-at-home dads with their kids. This exhibition travelled across 65 countries and led to a number of Swedish companies changing their parental leave policies.
Kiwi Dads does the same, capturing the small moments of domestic life for 13 families. Dads feeding babies, dads playing music, dads wrestling with kids, and doing washing. Normal, mundane, moving moments, with dad in the driver's seat.
Run by Global Women, in partnership with some of New Zealand's largest companies and the Ministry for Women, the exhibition not only celebrates the daily lives of stay-at-home dads but also elucidates the astonishing disparity between men and women when it comes to parenthood and work.
Consider this. As we celebrate Father's Day tomorrow, 320 dads will be on parental leave. And 30,000 mums.
There are reasons for this: breastfeeding and need for recovery time two of the more obvious ones. But dads are perfectly capable of being in charge of small children, so why aren't more doing so? And what are the wider implications for women's careers and beyond that, society as a whole?
The gender pay gap is "the bellwether for leadership across business", according to Global Women chief executive Siobhan McKenna. It also illustrates how much women are penalised when they take time out of their career to care for children.
Currently 9.3 per cent, the gap between men's and women's salaries is an indicator of who is in power.
That nearly 10 per cent gap isn't related to like-for-like pay comparisons. It's due, says McKenna, to an incommensurate number of men earning very high salaries for working in senior roles. Roles that women aren't filling because they are staying at home with the kids.
"That's why exhibitions such as Kiwi Dads are important," says McKenna. "It's helping to 'nomalise' the important work of parenting; and the idea of fathers as primary caregivers. And if dads are at home, doing this important work, their partners are able to invest time in their careers. And this means we can start to achieve a diversity of leadership, which is important for everyone."
Raising kids is a work-trajectory killer. According to figures provided by Global Women, women who take time out to care for their kids experience an 8.3 per cent hourly wage penalty after a year off paid work. This has a flow-on effect. Women who take time off (or work part time to raise children) will end up with a smaller retirement fund. And women live longer: less money, more time, greater hardship.
"Women who leave work to look after their children find it difficult, if not impossible, to go back into work," says McKenna. "If you consider this over time, given the amounts of women who are off work to care for their children, there are huge implications for women in leadership."
This was one of the reasons Peter Peilua, now chief policy adviser for Ministry of Pacific People, decided to take time off for his kids.
For 15 months, he was a stay-at-home dad, caring for his two daughters Frances (3) and MacKenzie (5). His wife Georgina's career had taken a pounding when she'd taken time off to care for MacKenzie. ("She was in a holding pattern, career wise," says Peilua.) So, when she became pregnant with their second child, it was decided that Peilua would be the primary caregiver, after the first few months of babyhood.
Like Gascoigne, it was an experience he had craved.
"I was home for just a couple of weeks with MacKenzie and had to travel for work a lot for the first part of her life. I missed a lot of the little things. I wanted the opportunity to really bond with my daughters, while also allowing Georgina the opportunity to concentrate on her career."
When Frances was 4 months old, Peilua took over as primary caregiver. There were sacrifices financially. "Yeah, we took a pretty hefty pay cut, as I had to leave my job," he explains. And there was a level of disbelief on the part of Peilua's family.
"Because of my parents' upbringing in Samoa, it was out-of-the-box and difficult for them to understand our decision, 'Why would you leave a great paying job and good career, when that was our dream for you when we came to New Zealand?'"
But he saw it differently, and in time, they did too. "The way they came to understand it, was that I was giving my daughters that future and opportunity by being at home and spending time with them in their early years."
It also meant his mother ("my harshest critic and my greatest supporter," he laughs) could spend time with her grandchildren and her son.
"You can't get those moments back," says Peilua of the time he spent at home with his children. "If you're working and you're not there to experience them, you miss out. I wanted to be there for those experiences."
Georgina's career has blossomed her return to full-time work. But parenting has so impacted Peilua and his wife so positively, they are radically changing their lifestyles.
"We have bought a holiday park in the South Island and are going to move their later in the year. We will be able to give our kids a rural lifestyle, and spend more time with them. If I hadn't taken the time off to care for them, I don't think this ever would have happened."
The dads in the exhibition encountered resistances and, inevitably, stereotyping. Gascoigne says mates ribbed him in a typical Kiwi bloke way: "Mate, I could never do what you're doing."
He says, "There didn't seem to be an understanding that opting out of childcare isn't an option for women. They are just expected to do it. It's a huge double standard."
For Peilua, the whole "hero dad" thing was played out regularly. "I'd have people come up to me in the park saying how great it was that I was looking after the kids. The sort of comments that no one would ever make to a woman."
For McKenna, examples such as these illustrate the real importance of Kiwi Dads. It provides a forum for the normalisation of fathers in the role of primary caregiver.
"We all know that diversity is important and for people to accept stay-at-home fathers, we need to normalise it. Kiwi Dads helps to do this."
Changing all those insidious, unwritten "rules" around parenting necessitates a shift, both structurally and ideologically. Businesses need to get on board with fairer parental leave conditions and tweaks to the government's paid parental leave would also help (paid parental leave starts on the birth date of the child, which means mothers are often the only ones eligible due to breastfeeding and recovery from childbirth).
Increased visibility, the likes of Kiwi Dads, can also make a difference to the pervasive attitudes around gender roles and childcare.
Vanessa Gascoigne can testify to the importance of having a partner who is willing and able to take on the primary parenting role. She's been able to advance in her career and her kids have experienced a different style of parenting. It's changed the day-to-day life of her family.
"Dave knows what needs to be done. He's incredibly hands-on. Parenting is a shared job and all of us have benefitted from his time at home with the children."
"It's best for Dave, it's best for me and it's the best for the kids. This is what people need to know. Everyone benefits from a diversity of parenting."
Kiwi Dads will run from September 5-15 at the new Scentre Group Mall, 277 Broadway, Newmarket.