When I was nearing 40, with two children aged 2 and 5 years old, I felt the need to start prioritizing.
Having spent more than ten years in a marketing office, working more than ten hours a day, my routine involved coming home in the evening too tired to play with my children. I felt time passing too quickly, and I was missing a lot. My wife had always been dedicated to the family, sacrificing her professional life. In our case, both maternal and paternal grandparents were too far, and babysitters cost more than half a salary. I thought this meant I needed to work even more and further sacrifice time with my children. However, I realized I needed to get off the proverbial hamster wheel.
I started thinking about a transitional solution and began by taking parental leave, six months off for each child, while being paid 30% of my salary. Leave for fathers is not universal, but it has the power to help transform gender inequalities and improve the lives of parents and children. In Italy, very few fathers opt for this choice, and it was certainly unheard of at my company, but I decided to try.
It was necessary, giving priority to what I viewed as more important. We spent more time comparing discounts and best prices, and we are fortunate to be surrounded by friends who have older kids that could pass slightly used and much-loved, good quality clothes and toys on to our children.
These privileges have allowed us to simplify our lifestyle and control spending, living within our means. All that really matters to our family is spending time together, and traveling as much and as often as we can. In this transitional year, my wife started looking for a job and I thought about how to reinvent myself in the world of communication as a freelancer. At the end of the leave year, the choice was not an easy one. I was deciding to leave a permanent job and dive head first into uncertainty, but I also remembered that I was not satisfied with the previous arrangement. Something had to change.
My wife eventually found a job she loves that suits her perfectly, and I found my initial clients by word of mouth. In the end, we managed to embrace a new lifestyle. Of course, working from home and simultaneously caring for two children is not easy. On one occasion, I had an important call with two people, one in the United States and one in Japan. The call was arranged during my youngest child’s nap time, but the baby woke up early, five minutes before the call. I decided to put both kids in a low bath, but then mid-call I heard my oldest son screaming from the bathroom. I headed for the bathroom to see what was happening and I found that my youngest son had relieved himself in the tub and was spreading his creation all over the bathroom, much to the disgust and horror of my older son, who at this point was hysterical. The call had to be cut short, as you can imagine. This is just one of the many stories of a freelance worker and full-time parent.
I often find myself working on Sundays or late evenings. My wife and I often organize schedules like a relay race. All the while, I also get to witness my wife flourish and finally resume her position back in the working world, an opportunity unfortunately still denied to many women because of the inequitable burden of care work they face, as well as the gender wage gap and other inequalities. Fatherhood is undoubtedly tiring, but in these two years I look back on my life and can testify that watching one’s children growing day-by-day is a luxury, and I feel blessed to be involved in their caregiving.