By Caroline Smith
When Daniel Petre wrote the ground-breaking Father Time back in 1998, it was both a reflection of his own experiences as a dad, and an outcry against cultural trends which have caused men to spend less and less time with their children – sometimes jeopardising the relationship completely.
Despite having occupied a high position in the corporate world as Vice President of Microsoft, Mr Petre was concerned about how this world and its leaders viewed fatherhood, and the results of this.
Of particular concern was the expectation placed on men to work 60 hour weeks and make time for clients’ social functions, but rarely to prioritise time with their children, even on weekends.
Looking back on the book as its third edition hits the shelves, Mr Petre said that while some changes had occurred in the intervening 18 years, there was still a long way to go to make working culture in Australia more ‘father-friendly’.
“I think it’s more acceptable to raise the issue now, and to talk about going to spend time with your kids in general,” he said.
“However, there isn’t change across the board – in the higher white collar professions in particular, there’s still a macho culture around fatherhood and work.”
One of the problems, he added, was the fact that top CEOs tended to be men with older children, who found it hard to empathise with employees whose children were younger and required greater time.
“The big problem is when young men join the workforce and they want to improve their job prospects, and then feel under pressure from older bosses to work longer hours,” Mr Petre said.
“Unless CEOs understand the importance of fathers spending time with their kids, the problem will still be there. We need to reach out to these men and remind them that younger men shouldn’t need permission to be better fathers.”
Mr Petre had his own ‘wake-up call’ years earlier, when he realised that it was impossible to spend time with his newborn daughter if he was always working late.
In Father Time, he describes how he broke this pattern by working less hours and allocating more time to activities, like reading at his daughters’ schools and even helping with canteen duties.
He said it was often a joyous surprise for fathers when they realised the importance of shared time, both for their kids and for themselves.
But long-term change could only be achieved when society as a whole invested more in the needs of fathers, through leave allocations and other entitlements, and he pointed to countries such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland as an examples of how this could be done better.
“I think they (Nordic countries) generally have a better understanding of what makes a healthy society, and they understand that parents play an important part in the emotional wellbeing of children,” he said.
Good communication between couples, and a willingness to break out of traditional patterns of housework and parenting roles could also help, Mr Petre said.
“I think women have for so long now been expected to take on the burden of childcare and domestic duties, so the first thing they need to do is to split domestic duties 50-50,” he said.
“It’s also true that we’ve alienated stay-at-home dads; the community generally doesn’t accept them, but perceives them as either career incompetents or weird.”
The third edition of Father Time is available at all leading bookstores and online and costs $29.99.