When Reuben Bemrose was a child his dad only existed on the weekends.

His chartered accountant father used to leave for work before Bemrose got up and return after he had gone to bed.

But Bemrose, now 29, is bucking the trend of the distant father. He has been the primary caregiver for two years since he and fiance Jess Bovey had Baxter, 2, and Lily, 11 months.

"My dad never got to see us. He missed out. Even he says that," Bemrose told the Herald.

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"When Baxter started crawling, I was there. When he took his first steps, I was there.

"I've watched every single milestone my children have had and been there to be a part of it. I'm always going to have that. When do you ever hear someone say 'I have spent way too much time with my children'? Never!"

Bemrose spoke to the Herald as figures released in an Official Information Act request showed a meagre number of men are taking paid parental leave.

Reuben Bemrose and Jess Bovey with their children Baxter and Lily Bemrose​. Reuben is the full-time carer for the kids while Jess works full time. Photo / Brady Dyer
Reuben Bemrose and Jess Bovey with their children Baxter and Lily Bemrose​. Reuben is the full-time carer for the kids while Jess works full time. Photo / Brady Dyer

Bemrose's partner Jess Bovey took her full allocation of 16 weeks' paid parental leave when they had Baxter in 2015. Bemrose took one and a bit weeks of annual leave to be at home. Bemrose taking paid parental leave wasn't something they even thought of.

When Baxter was 3 months old Bovey took him to work as her office was family friendly. But at 8 months old he was becoming a handful and then the automotive parts onseller Bemrose was working for closed down and he got redundancy. To put Baxter into childcare was going to cost about $460 a week so Bemrose decided to try being a full-time dad instead.

And he loved it.

Bemrose's laid-back personality suited staying at home with the kids, he said - although he is laid-back about housework too. Bemrose thinks he'll do it for another year and a half until Lily goes to daycare.

"Jess is just one of those people who's just a worker, she's real career driven.

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"I'm just super easygoing. I don't get stressed out easy. I didn't find it super daunting, it was just a big change."

Reuben Bemrose' with his kids Baxter, 2, and Lily, 11 months. Photo / Jess Bovey
Reuben Bemrose' with his kids Baxter, 2, and Lily, 11 months. Photo / Jess Bovey

Becoming the primary caregiver meant Bemrose was the first person the children run to when in distress. It hurt Bovey at first but they've since settled into their roles.

"I became like the mother role. If me and Jess are beside each other Baxter would run directly to me for a cuddle. Jess found that so hard."

Bemrose is aware that he's bucking society's expectations. When he catches up with an old friend and tells them what he's doing they often do a double take, "people get thrown a little bit".

Reuben Bemrose described his parenting style as
Reuben Bemrose described his parenting style as "laid back". Photo / Jess Bovey

But he recommends full-time fatherhood to anyone who can afford it.

"With anything in society we've developed a social sense of what's acceptable and unacceptable.

"As society we're moving towards more equal gender roles but I don't think males being in that mothering, maternal role has really been exposed."

​'Dads are not an optional extra'

New figures show the number of men taking paid parental leave has hardly changed in a decade.

In 2008, 220 dads took paid parental leave (PPL), totalling $661,631. Last year that number was 324, and the cost almost tripled to $1,769,550.

When the number is compared with population growth it has increased only by a fraction. And the monetary value has risen most likely due to leave rising from 14 weeks to 18 weeks over that time.

The number of women taking PPL increased from 25,676 in 2008 to 30,252 last year ($133,299,009 to $273,972,500).

Breastfeeding is often cited as the main reason more fathers don't take paid parental leave.

The Ministry of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding until babies are about 6 months old.

Read more: Labour supports paid parental leave for partners - but not yet

Parents will have 22 weeks of paid leave starting in July this year and 26 weeks' leave by July 2020. The current entitlement is 18 weeks.

PM Jacinda Ardern's partner Clarke Gayford said he would not take paid parental leave despite assuming a full-time caring role when he becomes a dad this year.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her partner Clarke Gayford announced that they are having a baby due in June where Gayford will be the main caregiver. Photo / Greg Bowker
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her partner Clarke Gayford announced that they are having a baby due in June where Gayford will be the main caregiver. Photo / Greg Bowker

Fifty-three per cent of New Zealanders believe that new fathers don't take the full parental leave they are entitled to because of fear they will be viewed as less committed to their job, a survey by recruiting firm Hays found.

Family First have been calling on the Government for years to support two weeks of paid "father leave". This would ideally rise to four weeks, director Bob McCoskrie explained.

The support is to help fathers bond with their child, take on more care, and help mothers after a birth.

Family First's Bob McCoskrie would like to see the Government stump up
Family First's Bob McCoskrie would like to see the Government stump up "father's leave". Photo / File

"The research shows it's important fathers can be actively involved. Dads are not an optional extra," McCoskrie told the Herald.

"Even from birth children who have involved fathers are more likely to be emotionally secure, confident in their surroundings and have better social connections with peers.

"Father leave is an important investment."

A report by the Families Commission found almost half the 1721 fathers surveyed were unable to take parental leave. After the publication of that report, the commission called for fathers to be given their own leave entitlement.

A National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women report recommended that leave for fathers be ring-fenced.

Mothers Network spokeswoman Melissa Wharakura believed dads should absolutely take paid parental leave if they were doing the work and taking the time off. Even better than that would be a fathers' leave entitlement.

"Those first few weeks are challenging, particularly with a first child. Having two hands on deck would be a great thing."

A number of countries have varying paid leave for new dads.

In 2011 Australia introduced a "Dad and Partner" pay scheme, which provides two weeks' leave for most working fathers after the birth of a child, and a payment equivalent of the minimum wage.

At present, dads are entitled to two weeks' unpaid leave. The primary eligibility for paid parental leave lies with the mother. If her partner is also eligible then she may transfer all or part of her entitlement to her partner.

The Ministry for Women was advised late last year to use the extension in PPL to encourage men to take time off to care for their children.

One of the largest employers in New Zealand, Fonterra, provides additional parental leave entitlements for its 12,000 employees.

A Fonterra spokeswoman said many dads take parental leave, including as a primary caregiver.

"Employees who are the primary carers are paid the difference between government funded parental leave payments and 80 per cent of their base salary for 16 weeks.

"Partners of primary carers can take two weeks' paid leave at 100 per cent of their salary.

"We are committed to providing a competitive market offering that's aligned to our focus on diversity and inclusion."

The Minister for Women and the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety have been contacted for comment.

Timeline

1987 The Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987 established to provide employment protected leave on the birth/adoption of a child to eligible parents.

2002 - PPL of 12 weeks introduced.

2004 - PPL extended to 14 weeks, to employees with at least six months' continuous service with the same employer, down from 12 months.

2006 - PPL was extended to the self-employed.

2015 - PPL extended to 16 weeks.

2016 - PPL extended to 18 weeks.

2017 - PPL extended to 22 weeks.

• 2020 - PPL extended to 26 weeks.

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