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Q&A Dads on parental leave

Q&A: Dads on Parental Leave

Nick Bucktin has worked as an urban designer in the Sydney studio for five years. His son, George, is two-and-a-half, and his daughter is a newborn. Antonio Cappiello has worked as an architect in the Brisbane studio for three years. He has two sons: Maximillian, three, and Noah, one. Angus Munro, also an architect in Brisbane, has worked at Architectus for over 10 years. His son, Ernie, is almost one.

Nick, Antonio, and Angus each took four months of leave to be the primary carer for their kids. In that time, they grew as people, bonded with their sons, and took the lead on parental responsibilities while their partners returned to work.

Let’s start with your kids. What is your child’s current favourite thing?

Antonio: Noah loves playing with his big brother, Maximilian. He likes to crawl on him and hug him and then they start rolling on the rug. They’re always together. He also loves bedtime stories and points to the book he wants us to read or grabs it himself. He absolutely adores cars and says “brum brum”.

Nick: George can spend hours in playgrounds and loves it when we find a new one for him to explore. He’s really interested in books, so enjoys his library at home. I must read at least three each bedtime! And Yoghurt drinks. He can’t get enough of them and if you deny him you end up paying the price!

Angus: Ernie’s going through a climbing stage. He climbs everything. Second to that, talking on his toy phone. Then being pushed on his swing. Oh, and being taken in the baby seat on a bike ride.

And what is their most recently acquired skill?

Antonio: Confidence when walking. So, he follows Max everywhere and does things he shouldn’t at his age!

Nick: 1) Big boy swings. He can now sit, or lay, on a normal swing. 2) Toilet training. It’s an ongoing process, but he’s mastered some aspects of it! 3) Being a big brother to his baby sister; he loves her and is (so far) very gentle and caring.

Angus: Climbing! He might be part mountain goat…

Now that you’ve returned to work, what are some of the takeaways from your time on parental leave?

Angus: One of the best things was developing confidence in parenting. Getting a lot of time to understand the routine and everything I needed to do – like changing nappies, naptime, feeding, all that kind of stuff. I still would have learned those things while working, but I picked it up much faster.

Nick: Yes, full-time care is quite a sharp learning curve, isn’t it? When you find yourself on your own that first whole day, you learn quickly!

Antonio: For me, having two kids was a bit different. The most important thing was the bond I was able to create with both of my kids. And to be able to understand the differences between them. I couldn’t take any time off work when Maximillian was born, so this time was great for me to establish a much stronger relationship with both of my boys.

Nick: Yes, that’s a major benefit: having a much closer bond than you probably would have otherwise. It was important to have a concentrated four months off work to spend the time with my child. To step back from my career, temporarily, and focus on what’s now the most important thing in my life. So, it was the best of both. I bonded with George and came back to work with a new balance to life.

What did this time allow you to do with your child?

Antonio: We had a good time going to the park and to playgrounds, things like that. It’s quite a busy time with the two kids at home, so I had my hands full! I gained a little bit of experience with my first son, so I thought, “Yeah, I’m fine. I can manage it”. But in the beginning, it was a bit overwhelming. I felt I had nothing under control. Time flew! But after a couple of weeks we had more of a rhythm. It’s very a different time – like a different way to be busy. I really enjoyed that.

Nick: Thinking back to my first day of parental leave, it was quite daunting. It rained all day when my wife went back to work and I thought, “I don’t know what to do”. We lived in a small apartment and were in the process of moving to a new house, so lots of stuff was in storage. We have a dog, too. I was thinking, “How am I going to entertain you all day?” So, we went to shops, and to the library for Story Time. By the end of the day, I was exhausted.

Angus: We were able to do more activities, like swimming lessons and sensory classes – I didn’t know about those before having a child – which was a lot of maracas and nursery rhymes. But other than that, it was a lot of hanging out. We deliberately time a renovation for when I was at home, so builders were working around us, which certainly made it interesting…

Nick: Especially at nap time; I imagine you were pleading with them not to do any drilling!

Angus: Yes, there were a lot of carefully timed walks! Nap time is usually when you get to relax a bit yourself, so we got crafty. It was quite intense, but we made it work.

Nick: When I took leave, my son was nine months’. We were trying to get him into regular naps in his cot, not the pram or the car. This was my ‘task’ and initially I got quite fit walking around with the pram for kilometers, up and down hills!

Antonio: Yeah, I walked with the pram for my first child, too, but didn’t need to with my second. You learn so much from your first child!

Were your family or friends surprised you took parental leave?

Nick: I don’t think so. They would’ve expected me to want to take leave, but they were surprised by how much leave I was offered. Friends in the UK were surprised that we got four months of paid parental leave. They thought, like I do, “That’s fantastic!” I know a few people in more corporate roles who said their companies did offer parental leave, but they weren’t going to take it, which I found staggering. I said, “Come on, four months, just take the time off and enjoy it”.

Angus: Yes, I had a very similar experience. Most of my friends took leave for their children, but there was a big difference in the amount of time people had. There was a playful jealousy, that they weren’t all offered the same. Having taken leave, I certainly learnt about other industries. The banking industry seems to have a good parental leave scheme but Architectus feels like it’s ahead because it’s offering longer leave for the fathers, and it’s parental leave, rather than maternity or paternity leave.

Antonio: Yeah, I was surprised when I got it. I have a lot of friends in the industry and all of them were extremely surprised. But yeah, I met other fathers in the playgrounds and other industries have implemented this type of benefit. So, things are changing, and this opportunity for dads will hopefully become normal. I feel so glad to work at a progressive practice that offers this type of benefit for families. For me it was crucial, considering I couldn’t take leave with my first boy. So, yeah, I’m very glad.

Nick: Yeah, my wife works for another architectural practice. When Architectus announced their policy, I went home and said to my wife, “Hey, we’re going to get this paid parental leave”. We thought it was fantastic. And then a month later, she came home from work and said, “My practice is doing it, too!” It couldn’t have been better for us.

Did your partner also take parental leave?

Angus: Yes, she was a contractor, though, so because her leave was unpaid, she could only take a few months. My paid leave certainly helped in her to get back to work – and she wanted to get back as well. But no, she didn’t have a paid parental leave scheme, other than the Government support.

Antonio: Yeah, my wife took a few months’ leave and she had the parental leave policy in place. But it was nothing compared with our policy. She really had minimal on top of what the Government offers. My family really benefitted from my leave.

Nick: My wife got the same deal as us – 16 weeks. She took eight months’, and just as I was about to go on leave, she wanted to take another month! For our second child, she wants to take a whole year. So, we’ll just have to adjust our lifestyles a bit, so we don’t feel the burn!

Antonio: Especially with childcare fees – that’s quite a shock!

How was your return to the studio?

Antonio: It was quite interesting to return to work in February this year. I worked from home last year, and went on leave in September, so was away from the office for almost a year! After parental leave, it was nice to see all my colleagues again. I really enjoyed being physically back in the studio. I worked full-time for the first few months, then decided to drop to four days to strike a better balance.

Nick: I felt emotional about leaving George. I remember when my wife returned to work, she was in tears. She’d spent all this time watching the little one growing and then – suddenly – she was off back at work. When it came to my turn, I found it hard. Also, I wasn’t handing him over to my wife, it was to daycare. I’d eased him into it, but I still wanted to be spending all day with him.

Antonio: We were lucky because we had the Christmas break to spend time as a family and we started the childcare routine then to make it easier for everyone when we returned to work. To soften the experience for everybody, you could say.

Angus: I went back to work full-time, and, like Antonio, used the Christmas break to start to daycare orientation and then sneak back into the office. It felt like a good time, at the start of the year, when everybody’s fresh and building up momentum.

What is your one take away from parental leave?

Angus: I’d circle back to what you guys said at the beginning: the bonding. I mean, you can do some long days in the office, and you might not get to see them much for a day, but you slip back in and pick up where you left off. You know each other very well; you know how each other behaves.

Antonio: Yes, I totally agree, Angus. Also, to be part of their everyday routine is important. Just to know all the needs of your child, and when he needs things. So, when my wife is not there, I know that I’m useful. I know exactly what to do and everything is under control. To be a part of the growing routine and plan feels amazing.

Nick: Yes, my experience left me knowing how precious that time was. When I went back to work, it hit me that I don’t get to have that experience every day now, so I’m aware that when I get family time, I’m conscious to be in the moment. I’m grateful I got to experience those moments, at that age, with that child. That was my thing.