City Dad, Adrian Dyer, on taking extended paternity leave to put his family first, taking a step back and focusing on what’s really important
Adrian Dyer began his career in the Merchant Navy as a navigating officer. He came ashore in 2000 and has worked within the shipping industry in the City of London ever since. He is married with two children. Adrian blogs as City Dad, aiming to encourage dads to become familiar with their rights as regards paternity and parental leave, as well as flexible working.
I think I’ve always been a family man. In fact most of my family, my own dad in particular, is very family-oriented, as opposed to surrounding themselves with friends, for example. I have always loved being around my family and around the home. At one point in my career I even requested working from home as a permanent change to my contract (it seemed much preferable to commuting for two and a half hours each day!) but my suggestion was rejected.
Shifting the base of work and family
In 2009, after the birth of my son, I spent two weeks on paternity leave immediately after his birth and then disappeared off to work leaving my wife to carry on with the rest of her maternity leave alone. This didn’t seem fair for several reasons. First, I had it easy, sliding off to the office to sit around and drink cups of tea while dealing with a few emails and calls.
My wife, on the other hand, was rushing around all day with our little one. She did love her time at home but, especially as it was our first child, it wasn’t easy. “You’re not doing anything around the house,” she used to say and she was right, I wasn’t. How could I? I left for work before 7am and was back again shortly before 7pm. But what could I do to shift the balance of work and family?
Back in 2009, the answer was: not a lot. However, when my daughter was born in 2012, we had more options.
“How would you like to split my maternity leave with me this time?” my wife asked.
“What? Can we really do that?” I asked, surprised.
Extended paternity leave: How would I cope?
Luckily my wife works in HR so she was well aware that in 2011 the law changed to allow dads to take up to six months of the wife’s maternity leave as additional paternity leave, as long as she has taken at least the first six months and returned to work. How would that work financially? How would I cope looking after two kids? What would my boss say about that?! So many questions…
A few months out to spend quality time with the kids – taking a step back and thinking about what’s really important
What an amazing opportunity – a few months out to spend quality time with the kids. I’d really be putting my family first. I think sometimes we can get caught up in life and lose our sense of what is really important to us. We focus on salaries, bonuses, status, how many bedrooms we have, what sort of car we drive. Once in a while it’s worth taking a step a back and thinking about what’s really important to us.
So: how about taking additional paternity leave? Financially it would be OK. My wife was earning more than I did so her returning to work once her enhanced maternity pay ended made sense. In addition, I was lucky enough to have some savings which I could use to pay my own way during my four months of totally unpaid leave.
Looking after two kids: It couldn’t be that hard, could it?
Could I look after two kids? Well, it couldn’t be that hard, could it? And what would my boss say? I work in the City of London for a company founded in the 1800s with a very traditional work ethic, so I knew this was going to be tricky. The best approach I could come up with was to take my manager out to lunch, buy him a couple of beers and then hit him with it. I thought he might be more receptive after having sausages and mash and two pints of Old Wallop.
He was shocked at first and actually didn’t know if it was even possible, but once I emphasised the financial reasons behind my plan, it began to make more sense to him. Nevertheless, he asked me to check with HR. That turned out to be just a formality. So that was it. All set for four months “off”.
An amazing, family changing experience
How did it go? It was an amazing, family changing experience. The kids loved it, I loved it and my wife was ready to return to work and leave me in charge at home. It was hard work though and when I tell people I only went back to work for a rest I’m only half joking! It’s all go, but it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done and I’d do it again.
Everyone I spoke to was really supportive and, apart from my own manager’s initially hesitant reaction, I’ve received nothing but encouragement and support from friends, colleagues and people I have met. This also includes other mums I met who seemed to enjoy the novelty of having a dad around!
Spend as much time as possible with the kids as possible – they won’t want Dad around forever!
After my four months of paternity leave, the thought of going back to work and missing out on being with the family was a bit depressing. However, I managed to negotiate a four and a half day working week which has worked out really well. It has meant a pay cut, of course, but I think that kids are only young once so we have to do what we can to spend as much time as possible with them now as they won’t want Dad around forever!
More devoted employee
Work wise I’ve returned to exactly the same role and my job hasn’t been affected negatively in the slightest. I’d even go so far as to say it’s had a positive effect, as I think I’m a more devoted employee now and, due to the fact that my employer has allowed me to work flexibly, I’m more likely to stay where I am.
The next generation of men will be doing this a lot more than we do, so why not beat them to it?!
By: Adrian Dyer