Fathers in Dubai
June 21 is Fathers' Day in Dubai. Time Out meets four very different dads and asks them about their life and chiildren
Jack Bunker, from the US, is a stay-at-home dad
We moved here in August 2008 because my wife Gina was transferred here with work. We thought it would be an adventure for the girls (Carmen, four, and Olivia, seven). I had my own law firm in the States so I assumed I’d be able to slide into a job when we arrived – but then all the law firms stopped hiring. I sort of became a stay-at-home dad by default.
A typical day begins at 5.30am, when we get the girls up, then I drop Gina at work and the kids at school. We don’t have any home help so I’m responsible for the cooking and cleaning. I’m also working on a novel and doing some freelance writing, which I do while the girls are at school. Carmen finishes school at 12.30 and Olivia’s out at 2.15, but the schedule’s so scattered what with all the after-school activities that myself and some other stay-at-home dads I know will take it in turns. So I make one more trip in the afternoon, come back, make dinner, maybe take the kids swimming, then go and pick up my wife, come back and put them to bed. It feels like I drive about 8,000 miles on Sheikh Zayed Road every day!
My social network is pretty much rooted in the children – I met everyone I know here either through school or Gina’s work, where most people seem to have kids of roughly the same age too. I certainly wouldn’t have met the other stay-at-home dads I know if it weren’t for school – plus the birthday parties, which seem to happen like every 10 minutes!
I don’t generally get any bad reactions when I say what I do – but then I don’t really get many chances to talk about it as I don’t get out that much – I stay up at my little garret doing my thing. Every once in a while we’ll be at a party and someone will say, ‘Oh, so you’re a “stay-at-home dad”, huh?’ and roll their eyes, but I think my wife gets crosser than me; I’m not really worried about what people think.
There isn’t much about Dubai culture that makes my life more difficult than if I were a stay-at-home mom. I guess there are little things, like today I accompanied the class to the Dubai Aquarium and when we were done, I said to a Pakistani mother that I was going to go and get some keema and did she want to come. I had my cousin in town and she was with me so it was fine, but I couldn’t have asked if I’d been on my own. There are some other mothers who are western and perhaps with them it wouldn’t have been a problem, but with some cultures it can be awkward.
I don’t tend to get too stressed doing what I do. I put my back out a couple of weeks ago and had to stay in bed. Gina was doing the running around for three days and she came back a little frazzled. I said from the bed, ‘So, not quite what you thought!’ She was like, ‘Can you just hurry up and get better?’
A lot of people here seem to just let their kids run wild – if my wife and I go out with other people and their children, we come home and say, ‘How did we get so lucky?’ I’m not sure if it’s because they’ve got nannies who are afraid to do anything in case they lose their jobs, or if it’s a cultural thing. I’m from the south of the US and even now there are people who expect their kids to say ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’. Because of my background, we take a much harder line on stuff like interrupting people and listening to mommy and daddy.
Kids always want to push boundaries but if it’s a free-for-all then you’re not doing them any favours. Fortunately, my wife and I are on the same page with that. My dad was a marine, and so we were expected to be respectful and tow the line. I really hope the way that my father brought me up is manifesting itself in my own fathering skills. He’s a great dad – he raised me and my sisters alone and made a lot of sacrifices for us. He was always there. I would love for someone to think that I did as good a job as my father.
If I were offered a job tomorrow, financially speaking I’d have to take it, but I’d be very cautious when choosing who to hire to look after the kids. I’ve seen some pretty awful things out here, for example the nanny will be at one end of the pool yapping with her buddy while a little toddler that can’t even swim is playing by the edge of the deep end; Gina also saw a nanny slapping a one-year-old baby the other day, so we’ve formed some pretty strong ideas on what we would and wouldn’t allow.
I was older when I had kids; I’d been around for a while and you look through the lens differently when you’re in your 40s than you might when you’re in your 20s. I teach my kids to listen to me, and with that skeleton, everything else falls into place: you need to study, you need to have manners, you need to try new things. But nothing can stop the worry, it’s relentless. As a lawyer, you hear about so many bad things that should never have happened – cars going through manhole covers, irons falling off things. When you think about how many bad things are out there and how dangerous everything is, you can feel an overwhelming sense of dread; it can paralyse you.
When I was a young man I always used to want sons, but I wouldn’t trade these guys for anything. Their sense of affection is just indescribable. I know everyone says, ‘You have to be a parent to understand,’ but you do. People told me that for years and years, and now I know what they’re talking about. It’s just great. When people talk about children placing limitations on your lifestyle, your freedom to get up and go, that’s honestly bullsh*t. Just 15 minutes with these guys cancels all of that out. I can’t remember anything that happened before being a father, it was just a blur. Becoming a dad is by far the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. I really am the luckiest person in the world.
Time Out Dubai,