Wednesday 19 June 2019

Frank Coughlan: 'My goodness - a genuinely family friendly move from an industry as old as time'

Stock image: Depositphotos
Stock image: Depositphotos
Frank Coughlan

Frank Coughlan

I can't be absolutely sure but I can say with a good degree of confidence that my father never pushed me anywhere in my hand-me-down Silver Cross pram. Ever.

For a man to be seen navigating a footpath with a squalling baby onboard would have been injurious to his reputation in the community, if not indeed fatal.

Nice man, they'd say, but a bit odd. Hen-pecked, don't you know.

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I can say too, and with an even greater degree of certainty, that he never minded his youngest for as much as an afternoon or had any cause to.

My mother was there all the time. Mammies never went out and daddies were never in.

Now this wouldn't have been today or yesterday, I grant you. We are talking somewhere between 'Love Me Tender' and 'King Creole', a time too when Dev still cast that long shadow over a land awash with comely maidens.

State maternity leave didn't exist because it didn't need to and the notion that a father might go to his grumpy boss looking for time off to care for his brood could only be imagined as a Jimmy O'Dea sketch at The Royal.

Women were, for the most part, stirring stews in the kitchen and that Ireland didn't see any reason for them to be anywhere else. It would be a decade later before they even began to give out about it.

Not that you have to go back that far. Or anything like it. When ours were born in the late 1980s and the 1990s the notion that I would take more than a day or two away from the office would have been considered a bit, well, new mannish.

We knew that the Scandinavians went in for that class of thing. Good for them, but really. I'd only be getting in the way around the house. And wouldn't the mother-in-law be inviting herself over anyway?

These might best described as the in-between decades: a period when men were realising they had responsibilities and a role around parenting, but hadn't worked out exactly what.

Or really wanted to.

Men attended ante-natal classes, took up room in the maternity ward and learned how to change nappies. But that was about it.

Women had things called careers by then, but would have to take a backseat after the baby came.

Juggling both would, from then on, define a working mother's very existence.

A paternalistic society might have reluctantly conceded that a woman had a role outside the home but when push came to shove - which is what giving birth is all about - her real role was still in it.

Us lads just went on with our careers and our lives, a few sleepless nights aside. Since then there have been changes but it has come dropping slow.

But the announcement that Diageo - the makers of the black stuff and other liquid refreshments too - is to offer equal parental leave to both men and women could be the example other corporations will feel obliged to follow.

Guinness mums and dads will be eligible for the same fully-paid 26 weeks, retaining benefits and bonuses regardless of "gender, sexual orientation or whether they become parents biologically, via surrogacy or adopt".

I would have thought that it would take a Silicon Valley hipster megacorp to pioneer something as bold as this. Instead it comes from an industry nearly as old as time itself.

It will be interesting to see if new dads, as genetically programmed to be embedded in their careers as any generation before them, will all sign up for six months out of the office.

There may well be teething problems and even tears. Imagine what colleagues would say about the new dad who decides to stay at his desk for the duration instead?

By the time our third was born I had grown up a bit. I took a year out of work to mind her. I was terrible at it, but it was wonderful too. It comes highly recommended.

But this Diageo announcement is really more about mums than dads. It's a bluechip corporation telling its female workforce that bringing up baby isn't all down to you anymore. Fair play.

Irish Independent

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