Wednesday 28 September 2016

Trading places... like David and Victoria Beckham

Just like Bill and Hillary and David and Victoria, growing numbers of couples are swapping roles with one another at work and at home

Gabrielle Monaghan

Published 19/06/2015 | 02:30

David Beckham has agreed to take a back seat this year so his wife Victoria can concentrate on her fashion career
David Beckham has agreed to take a back seat this year so his wife Victoria can concentrate on her fashion career
Bill Clinton has vowed to give presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton the 26 years she gave him
Nolan O'Brien currently stays at home with daughter Hannah (2) while studying for a PhD and wife Karen goes out to work. Photo: Arthur Carron
David and Victoria Beckham

Ian Jermyn is busy keeping 13-month-old son Oscar away from the oven while he puts a homemade pizza under the grill for their lunch. Within a few minutes, Oscar has disappeared into a kitchen cupboard and his 37-year-old father is enticing him out by telling him there "are dinosaurs in there who will eat you".

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Until last September, Ian was working in a marine research laboratory at NUI Galway, devising ways to clean up oil spills. After his wife Muireann got a job teaching at a primary school in Bray, the couple upped sticks to Dublin, where Ian has swapped the lab for being a full-time dad.

After Oscar was born, the prohibitive cost of childcare in the capital meant one of them would have to take a back seat in their careers to take care of him. Ian jumped at the chance - he could have an "adventure" with his son and planned to work from home as a freelance illustrator, print maker and web editor. He assumed it would be a breeze.

"I put my hand up because I was thinking of all that free time I could have," he says. "Blokes think they can handle quite a lot and think 'how hard can it be?'

"I thought I'd just be hanging out at home with Oscar, feeding and changing him. I thought I'd have a lot more time to focus on developing my artwork but it didn't happen. I found myself stressed out in the first couple of months. Things became a lot easier once I threw plans out the window."

The couple is currently staying at Muireann's parents' house near Killiney but, with her parents due to return from a stint overseas, they intend to move to Sligo, where living costs are cheaper.

"Some blokes might feel staying at home would be a big compromise," Ian says. "They need to go to work and bring home the bacon. There are lot of men - and women - driven by their work. But blokes need to be open-minded and flexible in what they can do."

Ian's attitude epitomises the zeitgeist for role reversals in the home. Rather than feel emasculated, these alpha house husbands are happy to hand over the financial reins to their wives so they can spend a few years supporting their careers. In return, they get to leave the rat race for a spell and embrace a more relaxed pace of life.

The poster-boy for these career supporters is David Beckham, the former football star who is now content to swap the pitch for the school run: he and wife Victoria have reportedly agreed that 2015 will be her year.

Now that that David has retired from football, he's keen to take on more duties at home to allow Victoria expand her fashion empire.

Hillary Clinton spent years proving that old cliché that behind every great man is a great woman, going further than most by standing by Bill Clinton during revelations of his affair. Now it's the former president's turn to return the favour, playing a low-key role as a back-stage adviser while Hillary runs for president. Bill Clinton said last year that their relationship was, in a way, a 52-year pact.

"We were married a very long time when she was always, in effect, deferring to my political career," he said. "I told her when she got elected to the Senate from New York that she'd given me 26 years, and so I intended to give her 26 years."

High-flying women have long had 'plus ones' - husbands content to quietly pick up the domestic slack or become the primary caregiver so their celeb wives can bring home the bacon.

For instance, Oscar-winner Meryl Streep and mother-of-four has described sculptor husband Don as "the linchpin of my life".

In Ireland, Cork woman Margaret Burgraff, one of Intel's newest vice-presidents, has an American husband who is a stay-at-home dad to their two children.

The role of the woman as one that belongs in the home is enshrined in the Irish Constitution and men still get the message of the State, through the lack of statutory paternity leave, that once a child is born, it is their duty to be the main provider.

But these conventions are gradually shifting dramatically. The government is considering introducing two weeks of paid paternity leave and one year of parental leave after a baby's birth, to be shared between the parents at their discretion.

And the Irish father is no longer the emotionally distant, authoritative figure demanding respect on the one hour he sees his kids before they have to go to bed.

Or the kind of bumbling oaf depicted by advertisers as so inept in the domestic sphere that he can't manage a load of laundry.

The type of man being celebrated this Fathers' Day is more likely to take turns cooking dinner for his toddler and reading bedtime stories or even staying home during the day altogether.

Many men found themselves in the latter position by default during the recession, which hit male-dominated industries, such as construction, manufacturing, and financial services, the hardest. Now that the economy is recovering, more men are eschewing well-paid jobs and choosing full-time parenthood as a lifestyle choice - one that makes sense when one in 10 women are the main breadwinners.

In the first quarter of 2015, there were 10,600 men classed by the Central Statistics Office as being on "home duties", up from 8,100 men in the first three months of 2013 and just 5,100 men in 2005.

Though the numbers are still small, these role reversals mirror a similar phenomenon happening throughout America, where men are even holding their own brand of baby shower, and the UK, where the numbers of stay-at-home fathers have doubled in the last 10 years.

But what's it really like for a man to spend his days changing nappies or being the only father in the playground?

While it can be an isolating experience for some men, Nolan O'Brien found he garnered plenty of social kudos just for looking after his own child - far more than his wife Karen gets.

The 30-year-old spends four days a week with Hannah, his two-year-old daughter. When Karen, a 29-year-old account manager for a large electricity company, returns home from work, Nolan leaves for University College Dublin to work on his PhD in psychology.

"I'm not the primary caregiver - I'm just here nine to five," he says. "In fact, my wife probably does more. She's managing to put in a 40-hour week in four days and does bath-time and bedtime every night.

"We even split the shopping 50-50. But when I go out and do the shopping with Hannah, the checkout person will say 'oh, let me give you a hand' and 'oh, you're out on your own with the baby'.

"People go out of their way to bag my groceries. I'll tell my wife that and she'll say 'that's so unfair'. If she goes out alone with Hannah, it's just expected she has her act together."

Nolan, currently on the hunt for more lecturing work, hopes that once he has his qualification under his belt he'll be in a position to be the main breadwinner so that Karen can have a chance to stay at home with Hannah.

"Doing a PhD is not the most lucrative thing in the world and she has been the breadwinner and primary caregiver," he says.

"But I feel super lucky to be able to spend this amount of time with my kid. The reason I'm doing this PhD is because I want my wife to have what I have now with all our future kids and for the rest of Hannah's childhood."

Irish Independent

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