Kenyan men and their crazy antics when on paternity leave

It turns out that most men don’t even bother to take paternity leave

When you dip a toe into the many female-only Facebook groups, you’ll get women sharing nasty experiences during maternity leave. From dramatic experiences with house girls, to their struggles with losing baby fat.

In particular, however, they whine most about the unfair division of labour between them and their aloof husbands, who should be more understanding and helpful at such a time.

Well, as it is always said, women technically and mentally become moms the moment they discover they are pregnant, but men only become dads once they hold their babies after birth. So in a nutshell, women have some ten or so months to shape-shift and adopt, whilst for men, it’s baptism by fire. But this is where maternity and paternity leaves comes in.

Ordinarily, during such time, milk-leaking and sleep-deprived mothers are always struggling to come to terms with motherhood, especially for the first timers. This is the time they bond with their babies and heal from the vagaries of childbirth. The pregnant question, however, is, where are husbands at such times? Well, except for a few, many men try as much as possible to stay away.

“When I gave birth to my first child, my husband took paternity leave, not to be with us, but to travel to his rural home to oversee the construction of his house,” says Alice, adding that it was as if he didn’t want to be around, perhaps to save himself the displeasure of sharing a bed with an ever-wailing newborn.

“Men do all manner of odd things during paternity leave. For some, this is the time to engage in side hustles and make more cash,” she says, adding that men are clueless about what is expected of them at this time.

From talking to men on the streets of Nairobi, it turns out that most men don’t even bother to take paternity leave, because they feel it’s unmanly to hover around a newborn in the name of bonding with it.

Some, however, would like to take this time off work, but their employers don’t offer the opportunity. Where it’s offered, the leave is too short to have an impact.

“Where I work, I have seen my supervisors and other male bosses return to work the very week their wives give birth,” says Robert Okoth, adding a rhetorical question: “How do you expect such men to push HR for longer paternity leave for junior male colleagues?”

Too little time to have impact

Okoth, who is not a parent but is looking forward to it, say the paternity leave at the organisation where he works is only two weeks.

“Just when a man is learning and trying to adjust, it ends,” he says. “In fact, to some workaholics, especially those who are not first time parents, it never crosses their minds. The mainstream male view is that it’s not in our culture for men to go on paternity leave,” he says.

For Faith, when she gave birth, she had an elaborate plan on how she expected her husband to operate during his paternity leave. “Worn out after the delivery, I knew this was to be the time for him to learn to look after the baby as I rested. I expected him to learn to change diapers and help with other small household chores,” says Faith.

But to her shock, her man used this opportunity to go round, meeting his long lost friends and making merry, as if he were on holiday.

“The local bar knew the best of him. Immediately he was done with breakfast, he would step out in the name of ‘going to stretch’. Before you knew it, he would stroll away, claiming to be going to pick newspapers at the local supermarket,” says Faith. She says her man would disappear and only make a technical appearance to check on her in the afternoon before disappearing till late in the night, when he is too tired to give a helping hand.

She says each time she called upon him to hang around the house to help the rookie house girl and spend some time bonding with the baby, the man always had an excuse.

“He would claim he had just bumped into an old pal and they were catching up… or a friend had derailed him and taken him to view plots along Kangundo Road or in Kitengela or he was running an errand in town,” says Faith, wishing he didn’t take the paternity leave in the first place.

For others, like David, this is the time to combine the time with their annual leave and travel upcountry to check on their parents and relatives.

Time to travel away from home

“Men are busy people. When you get such time, honestly it will be unmanly to hang around the house, baby sitting in the name of bonding with the newborn,” chuckles David, explaining how he used his paternity leave to visit his parents in his rural home and finish some of his stalled development projects he had initiated, including starting a zero grazing unit for his ageing dad.

While pregnancy almost instantly triggers care-giving instincts in women (thanks to that wonder hormone, oxytocin), men need some time with their babies for them to shift mentally into daddy mode.

Strangely, this is the time most men don’t want to be around home. Tales have been told of those who conveniently take months-long business trips, only to return once the newborn baby has stopped wailing throughout the night.

According to city-based Dr Philip Oduor, men, particularly first time fathers, are encouraged to listen to their baby’s wails more often. The medic says such regular noises connect pathways in a father’s brain, which help in changing his social perceptions about babies and also bolster his ability to make and maintain a relationship with the newborn.

“Besides newborns’ screams, which are very unique and necessary in helping parents to bond with them, the act of dads spending more time with babies is linked to better cognitive development,” says Oduor.

The good doc goes on to add that women whose husbands take paternity leave upon birth of their babies are less likely to be depressed, as it happens with most women after childbirth.

“The regular presence of a husband around a woman who just gave birth boosts her hormone levels of prolactin and oxytocin, which in turn stimulates breast milk production,” says the doctor.

The few men to whom we talked to admitted they take paternity leave and hang around their wives and babies throughout the time said they find the whole experience beneficial.

Husbands who offer a helping hand

Simon Chege, a father of three children, says he always took time off duty when his wife gave birth. “Hanging around the newborn is torturous but worth the while. It always gave me that feeling of being an equal partner in the marriage. Plus, me being around and offering moral support excites my wife, which I believe boosts her morale,” he says, adding it sends the message that “we are together in this”.

Chege says him being around home, closer to his wife and newborn and actively participating in parenting at that initial stage has turned him into an expert on matters babies.

We also have men whom women reported that as much as they hang around the house, they turn themselves into couch potatoes who don’t help in anyway. Some only read newspapers, watch sports, sun themselves like lizards, eat and drink. When asked to chip in, they insist that such matters are a preserve of women.

“This should be the time when men study their babies different cries. There is a cry for thirst, hunger and sickness. Then there is a cry for diapers to be changed. These are some of the things men must hang around to know,” says Mwilu, adding that nothing excites a woman as husband who can nurse a baby, knows how to change diapers and generally handle a newborn.

Mwilu throws in a good word for her man, saying some husbands try. “My husband knows the basics. For the two times we been in such situation, he really came through. He would wake up at night each time the baby began crying just to give me moral support,” she says, pitying women whose husbands are a mess.

“Some are like babies. You are better off with them away for they can make your blood pressure rise,” she says.