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'Having seen how much my wife went through, it felt so wrong to be heading out the door'

As a father, I’ve found returning to work after a few days very difficult, writes Eric Nolan.

Eric Nolan Father of two

LOCKER ROOM TALK has evolved over time. Donald Trump’s experience was very different to my own.

I remember one particularly animated conversation I had in the fire station locker room back in 2012. It was about the merits of cutting our toddlers’ daytime naps out, with a view to improving night-time sleep. Halfway through the conversation, we noticed a more senior colleague looking at us and shaking his head.

He proceeded to make a smart comment in relation to our manliness (in fairness to him, it was very funny).

We’re more hands on

Times have changed to such an extent that it’s now normal for men to engage in parenting conversations. Both parents work in many families. Where one parent stops working to care for their family, it’s not always the woman that does so. The role of a father has evolved. We are much more hands on than our predecessors. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Equality in the home is just the beginning. Society is demanding equality in all areas. The #MeToo movement has shone a light on discrimination and abuse. The gender pay gap is being highlighted more than ever before. Gender quotas are now being employed in Irish general elections in an effort to see more equality in our Dáil.

Gender quotas work in the short-term. But the goal, gender equality, is most worthy. Being the parent of two girls has given me skin in the game so to speak. I want my girls to have as much chance of success and a financially comfortable life as their male peers. I will support whatever measures are necessary for this to happen.

Treating symptom, not cause

I can’t help but think that gender quotas alone won’t fix the problem. They are treating the symptom rather than the cause. I am convinced that it’s the right thing to do short-term, but if we are not treating the underlying problem, then we won’t make any real progress.

Why do we still have a gender pay gap? Why are women so underrepresented in the boardroom? I think maternity leave is part of the reason.

Although few, if any, employers will admit it, when all else is equal (or close to equal), the prospect of a prospective employee or promoted employee being away for work for six months or more, on possibly more than one occasion, must come into their thinking. That time away must also have a cost to women in terms of future promotions because of time and experience lost.

Before the sirens go off, let me be very clear. I am not for one second proposing an end to maternity leave. Pregnancy is hard, and those post-natal months are vital for the mother to recover, as well as providing the love and care that is so important in a child’s life. Welcoming a baby into a home is a magical time. Often endlessly challenging and tiring, but wonderful.

Paternity leave

As a father, I’ve found returning to work after a few days very difficult. Having seen how much my wife went through to bring our child into the world, it felt so wrong to be heading out the door when there was so much I could be doing to help at home.

I also couldn’t help thinking that I was missing out on important bonding time with our new baby. The recent introduction of two weeks paternity leave is very welcome. Particularly as I’ll get to avail of it in July (I can’t wait). But it’s not nearly enough. If we truly want gender equality then we need to significantly increase paternity leave.

There are a number of ways to do this. Many countries allow paid parental leave to be split by parents in whatever way they wish. Iceland in particular seems to me to be a good example.

There both parents get three months, with another three months to be split according to their preference. This leave is paid at 80% of their salary. We are a long way behind.

We can’t afford not to

Any proposal like this will meet predictable pushback. There are so many worthy urgent areas that need funding. Housing and health especially. But if we are really serious about gender equality, and we truly value the roles of parents, then we can’t afford not to do it.

The real choice will be between a return to auction politics, where the parties compete on how much they will reduce your taxes, and taking real society changing action like this.

Eric Nolan is a father of two living in Midleton. He works in Cork Airport’s Police and Fire Service. He is the Labour Party’s Local Area Representative for Cork East.

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Eric Nolan  / Father of two

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