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Children

Playground generals, mustachioed nannies and just plain heroes. All the truth about European fathers involved

17.11.2022

I sit in a café and quickly gulp down a cup of tea while the baby sleeps in the pram. The door opens and two brutal men head towards the table next door: broad shoulders, sporting caps, tattooed arms...

Behind them, two girls of about four years old jump in. One wears a pink tutu and the other holds a plush unicorn. The men patiently listen to the girls' tantrums to get them waffles or muffins. Then masterfully resolve the unexpectedly erupting fight over the unicorn. Finally, the whole group heads to the play area, where the dads selflessly sample the delicacies the daughters have prepared in the children's kitchen.

The stereotypes from my Soviet childhood, firmly planted in my head, still make me look at such men as a special species. I think I even have one at home, but I am not used to seeing them in large numbers 'out in the open'. Meanwhile, in Europe "involved dads" have long been no rarity and their population is growing day by day.

Involved dads masquerade as ordinary homo sapiens, but they are easy to spot. They may come to a business meeting covered in stickers. He has a child seat bolted to his bicycle, or even a large wooden basket to carry several offspring. He knows by heart the song from "cold heart" and can name ten kinds of dinosaurs, even if he is woken up with the question at three in the morning.

Particularly large clusters of involved dads are found at playgrounds at the weekend, as well as at various "developmental activities". My husband takes his son to children's swimming on Saturdays. There are only two mums for eleven participants. Whereas in Russia infant swimming is about nervous mums who are worried that their eight-month-old is not yet swimming a hundred-metre crawl, in Germany it is about relaxed fathers splashing around with their children. The mothers in this scenario, of course, are even more relaxed because they are sipping margaritas with their girlfriends at the moment.

Remember the pictures of the panda calling for the rescue of rare animal species? Here too, the dads involved need to be taken care of. European governments realise that if they are not given favourable conditions, they could end up back in the Red List. In 2017, the European Commission recommended that all European states introduce 10 days of compulsory "paternity leave" after the birth of a child. Many countries are going further: France, for example, has just extended such leave to a month, while Finland promises to make it equal in length to the maternity leave of 7 months. The Nordic countries are ahead of the game when it comes to gender equality: some have introduced a "dad quota" in parental leave - a few months that cannot be transferred to the mother.

Active fatherhood cannot yet be taken for granted, unlike "active motherhood" (a term that does not even exist; in fact, passive motherhood is rare).

One study shows that, on average, only 10 per cent of European men take paternity leave, ranging from 0.02 per cent in Greece to 44 per cent in Sweden. And if they do, they don't always use it for its intended purpose. "My wife shouted at me," a friend complains to my husband. - I've been on paternity leave for a week now, but I work every day."

This is why women still value active dads and are prepared to forgive them a lot. The hero of the lovely book Nordic Dads, Swede Esse, is outraged: "When a dad takes his six-month-old, say, to the beach, and there they snack on a packet of biscuits and a bottle of soda, the other parents, especially the mothers, are bound to say, or at least think, 'What a great dad, even taking the baby's food with him.' And if the mother finds herself in this situation, she will be immediately shamed and generally assessed very differently."

Statistics show that women in Europe still spend more time on housework, are more likely to be in low-skilled jobs, interrupt their careers for children for longer periods and are less likely to be promoted. But times are slowly changing, thanks to ambitious women and active dads. I hope that the phrase "active fatherhood" will sound as strange to our children's generation as "active motherhood" does to us.

By: Anna Rosch

Quote on the subject

Victoria Hoagland
"Dutch babies sleep through the night" (Foreword and illustrations by Dr Komarovsky AST, 2020)

The Dutch tend to be really great fathers. "Remember that on your first night at home with your newborn, you will have to get up several times to check on your baby. The new mum is tired and needs to rest. Gently change the baby's nappy and only wake your wife up for feedings," advises Parents magazine.  They also recommend making sure to take advantage of the right to "daddy's maternity leave" - one working week fully paid for by the employer. "Remember the baby needs three things - love, food and sleep. Skin-to-skin contact is essential for the baby and it's not just mum who can give this perfectly, but dad too."

Brett Orie, a sociologist at Erasmus University Rotterdam, has spent several years conducting research in sixteen European countries. The result was an encouraging conclusion: dads from the Netherlands hold the lead in terms of involvement in parenting! They motivate their wives to go to work, take care of the children and do the housework. My experience tells me that here, spouses (sorry, partners) are generally used to sharing all household and life responsibilities in half.

Cook a meal for the whole family, take the daughter to daycare, clean the bathroom or go grocery shopping? No problem. All of the above plus about one hundred and twenty-three more items are taken care of by, well, my husband Adri, so I know what I'm talking about. And although I don't welcome this widespread European feminism because of its often ugly and radical forms, here I reluctantly admit that this state of affairs is a direct legacy of some Rosa Luxemburg.

And even Maria Arbatova would not have found a venomous remark at the sight of the handsome Feike, Peter or Tijs dashing around on a bicycle with two child seats bolted on and a shopping basket.

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