In a growing trend, some expat fathers in Vietnam are bucking traditional gender roles and becoming stay-at-home dads. By Ruben Luong. Photo by Fred Wissink.
When Canadian expat Brit Abbott takes his 10-month-old daughter for walks in District 7’s Phu My Hung, the reaction of many locals can be predictable.
“You get loads of unsolicited advice, mostly from Vietnamese mothers and grannies who think you’re crazy because they don’t know why you’re looking after a baby,” Abbot, 36, tells me in his apartment off of Nguyen Van Linh Street, while the pink tutu-clad Lola plays on the floor in front of us.
Abbott is recounting some of his experiences as a stay-at-home dad while his Canadian wife, Jamie, teaches English at the Canadian International School during the day.
“They tell me it’s too hot for the baby outside; the baby should have something to suck on; the baby is clearly hungry; the baby is too hot; the baby is too cold; that toy is too big; that toy is too small,” Abbot says. “I smile and say, khong sao.”
In the US, news of more men going on the “daddy track” and becoming stay-at-home fathers has been a hot topic this year in publications such as TIME, Parade and The Wall Street Journal. According to a study published in the Journal of Family Issues, 550,000 men were stay-at-home dads in the past decade — that makes up about 3.5 percent of all married couples with children and at least one spouse with a paid full-time job. In the 1970s, only about 280,000 men stayed home with their children.
Further research and more commenters claim this indicates the ushering in of a new 21st-century, stay-at-home dad, one that isn’t necessarily trying to fit the archetype of a mom, but instead develops his own spin on parenting.
The trend seems to be catching on in Phu My Hung, where many expat families already live or relocate to for its convenient living resources, fresher air, baby cafes and play centres.
Abbott and his wife have been in Vietnam for eight years, two and a half of them in Phu My Hung. Abbott had worked at VAS English language centre for seven years but decided to quit last year in order to take care of Lola and accommodate his wife’s work schedule at the time. Now, he works in the evenings after 6pm at VUS.
“For five years I taught grades one through five and two years in kindergarten, so that kind of got me in the flow of very young kids,” Abbott says.
Scottish expat David Oakley is another father who has gotten on the daddy track. The 36 year old, lives with his wife, Anya, 31, and their 11-month-old daughter, Lily, in the same complex as Abbott. Like Abbott, Oakley takes care of Lily during the day. The two fathers also know each other through VUS, where Oakley had previously worked but quit in order to take on private tutoring and online distance learning courses to get his master’s in teaching English.
“I think my perception of being a father was different,” Oakley tells me. “I thought I would be very good because I was a teacher. I could teach my daughter about life. But right now it’s about management, about organising your life and time, just to shepherd her and make sure she’s not going to hurt herself.”
In many cultures, especially Vietnam, the husband is still expected to be the breadwinner. But among Ho Chi Minh City’s expats, particularly those with teaching jobs in the city that stray from standard work hours in Vietnam, this traditional family formula is not always a realistic option.
“When we discovered Anya was pregnant and when we had the baby, we were both working full time,” Oakley says. “I went to work and Anya had maternity leave. She stayed with the baby for about three months and I was working full time and discovered it was stressful for Anya, so I didn’t work so much.”
He enjoyed his job teaching, but he didn’t mind the change and accepted it as the next stage of his life with no remorse.
“My father spent most of his time working when he was bringing us up, but I see a lot of fathers around this area now who are taking more of an active interest in their children,” he says. “It’s the way that life is, the way the world is developing. We’re sharing more of the responsibilities in the world.”
As a way to make their lives easier, Abbott, Oakley, and another mutual friend, Gus, a fellow stay-at-home dad who moved from Phu My Hung to teach kindergarten in Nha Be District, have formed a support group. They all found themselves with children, in the same situations, and at the same time, so it seemed like the natural thing to do. But of course stay-at-home dads need time apart from the kids, too. Sometimes they try to get away by playing table tennis or cards together, or go to The Tavern for quick drinks while locals help look after their children.
“We try to keep the annoying parental chatter to a minimum, but it’s gotta come out sometimes,” Abbott says. “You can’t help it, it doesn’t matter how cool you try to play it.”