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Full-time fathers put family first

EDWARD Wang, a "full-time dad" for seven years, has a daily schedule that is quite different from most other men who are, like him, in their early 30s. His job before becoming a full-time father was a clothing store owner for two years, both with an actual retail space and an online store.

Wang sold the real store to his partner shortly before his wife gave birth to their daughter but kept the online business as a part-time job.

Every morning, Wang wakes up at 6am, not to get prepared for work but to cook breakfast for his seven-year-old daughter Sarah. Then he sends her to the school.

In the rest of his spare time, he goes to the neighborhood wet market to buy daily groceries, surfs online for a while, takes care of his online clothing store, and then goes to pick Sarah up at 3:30pm, when school is over.

After school, he takes Sarah to her two-hour piano school twice a week, swimming once a week, to the nearby park once a week and to his parents' and his wife's parents' once on alternate weeks. Then, while Sarah does her homework, he cooks dinner so it is ready when his wife comes home and they eat together.

"We both thought that we should take care of the baby ourselves, rather than having a babysitter or our parents do it. We agreed that it would be best for the child," Wang tells Shanghai Daily.

"It wasn't a difficult decision to choose who would stay at home, although it might be for some other fathers, since I never had a real full-time job anyway and because I can continue to manage my online store from home," Wang says.

In addition, his wife works for a large foreign enterprise and was worried that it might not be so easy to find a new job if she took a few years off to take care of the child.

"After all, the traditional idea of men taking care of things outside the home and women inside is still the mainstream. If a woman tells her boss that she needs to leave for a few years to take care of a child, she is then considered to have made her decision between career and family," Wang says.

"Even if she wants to return after those years, who will want to hire a woman with a little child, especially since she has once given up work for her kid?"

Wang is among the increasing number of full-time fathers in Shanghai. A survey of about 800 families in Shanghai, released by Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences in 2007, reveals that 13 percent of men are willing to become full-time fathers if "the income from the spouse is enough to maintain family living costs." And more than 70 percent of fathers wish to have a parental break similar to those taken by fathers in many Western countries.

Another report from the academy in 2008 indicates that 16 percent of families with children aged up to 18 years old have a full-time parent, and 40 percent of these full-time parents are fathers, only slightly lower than full-time mothers.

"In Europe and the US it is more common to see full-time fathers. You can always see young dads holding kids in many public places, and you can also see many families with the mothers working and fathers taking care of the children," says Cao Zifang, a psychology professor with Shanghai Normal University.

"The increase in full-time fathers in China also indicates the transformation of our idea on traditional family education. It is important for children to spend more time with fathers, since they mostly deal with women - teachers, mothers, grandmothers, babysitters - when they grow up."

However, the idea of a full-time father is still restrained. Sociologists consider the major problems that prohibit fathers from staying at home to be social acceptance and economic conditions, which both affect the father's pride and self-acceptance.

Income issue

What was rather an easy decision for Wang, since he had savings from selling the clothing store and continuous income from his online store, is often a very difficult one for other fathers, as well as their wives, parents and parents-in-law.

"Whenever I attend social gatherings with former classmates, colleagues or friends, people just keep asking me what it is like to be a full-time father," says Mike Chen, who joined the group of full-time dads when his son was born last October.

Chen used to work for an advertising company on a very tough schedule and had not had a salary increase for three years. After getting rejected for a salary increase again last May, Chen thought about quitting the company and started looking for a new job.

"During the job hunting, I didn't work as hard as before for the old company, and went home much earlier than before. My wife really appreciated it and joked about me staying at home rather than looking for a new job a few times," he recalls.

They planned to have his mother take care of the child, since both Chen and his wife were busy with work. But the grandmother suddenly got taken to hospital in September, one month before the baby was born.

"Somehow, we started getting serious about the topic. Since my wife makes more money than I do, and it is probably easier for me to find a new job later, we just decided I would stay at home," he says.

Now after seven months, Chen masters all the baby-caring procedures, but he has also grown annoyed by those around him.

"People always joke about how great I am to give up my job and stay at home. But I find myself quite irritated with that joke. And we have also started to worry a little about money, since my wife's salary is only just enough to cover living costs," he concludes.


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