Real life

Must every man take spring off to give birth?

The curse of paternity leave

3 May 2014

9:00 AM

3 May 2014

9:00 AM

Really, I do wish people would stagger their baby-making. Absolutely every professional person whose services I have required in the past few weeks has declared themselves out of action for procreational reasons. And before I get accused of sexism, most of them have been men.

It is a very strange thing, this trend for paternity leave. I wouldn’t mind, but it doesn’t just start when the baby arrives. It seems to take men out of gainful employment in the run-up to the birth as well as after it, nowadays.

I’m sure this never used to be the case. As I understand it, my father, for example, was able to work right to the moment my mother went into hospital to have me. At no point did he inform customers snootily: ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t possibly process your booking to stay in my hotel this week. My wife is expecting a baby any day now. How selfish of you to even think of phoning to make a reservation at this most precious of times in the private life of my family and without any regard to my emotional needs. Good day to you.’

No, he simply carried on running his business until the moment my mother went into labour. And picked up running it again the moment I was safely out.

Neither my mother nor I were the least bit put out by this. ‘Would you have liked dad to have spent time at home helping you look after me when I was a baby?’ I’ve just asked her.

‘Goodness, no. He would have got under my feet.’

It’s all changed now, though. Women love having men under their feet. And men seem to love being under women’s feet. And because spring is such a busy time of year for births — people being more like sheep than you might think — I don’t seem to be able to find a man to do a job of work for love nor money.

First of all, I couldn’t get Andy the computer man to come and fix my Wi-Fi connection. Andy the computer man is the only person on the planet who understands the exact combination of buttons you have to press to make the laptop and the Sky hub speak to each other.

But the last time he was with me, he uttered the fatal words: ‘We’re expecting a baby any day now.’ He had a strange, glazed look on his face. He looked as spaced out on hormones as any expectant mother. His vacant smile communicated that nothing much mattered any more, save the safe delivery of junior. Which was fine for him, but not so good for my computer system, which rather depended on him concentrating on something other than nursing pads and cocoa butter.

When he left, to go to Tesco Extra to pick up a bassinet, he said he didn’t know when he would see me again. ‘Any day now!’ he said, gazing into space as he sat with the car door open.

‘You’re going to need to shut the door and start the engine,’ I said.

A few weeks later, when the blasted Wi-Fi connection failed again, I knew better than to even think about calling him.

But it really did take the Farley’s rusk when a few days after that I tried to secure the services of an event rider to back my young thoroughbred and he invoked paternity rights too. He was not able to work, he said, because his wife had had a baby six weeks earlier.

I wanted to say: ‘But you didn’t have it, right? I mean, I understand that your wife might be feeling disinclined to clamber on top of my horse six weeks after giving birth, and might reasonably be expected to want to stay at home. But you’re not actually nursing the wee one yourself, are you? I mean, you could, in theory, still get on a horse and ride it whilst your baby continues to thrive unimpeded by your absence for an hour, right?’

But I didn’t, of course. Because that would be to undermine his rights to equal something or other. I can’t think what. Equal opportunity to become smeared in sick, possibly.

Then the rider I did manage to employ for the purposes of backing my horse declared her a bit stiff behind and asked me to get her checked over by a physiotherapist. So I rang the one he recommended and left a message.

The text came back a week later: ‘I am on maternity leave for the next couple of months…’

To be fair, she was at least having the baby herself. I can see that a women in the throes of actually producing a child deserves a bit of time off. I’m not totally unreasonable.

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