While the majority of dads have to fight for time with their children around hectic work schedules or make the most out of the meager amount of paternity leave given to them, these men have decided to make taking care of their families their full-time jobs. The ‘stay-at-home dad’ is no new concept and these fellas are enjoying every minute of their busy and kid-filled lifestyles. While their wives are busy at work, these guytais are holding down the fort and becoming pros at their fatherly duties.
‘Guytai,’ a play on the Chinese word taitai (meaning wife, most often stay-at-home mom), is a term for stay-at-home dads in China. While the approach to parenting may be different from the West, the importance of fatherhood and being at home with your children is gaining more attention as new paid paternity leave policies are introduced across the country.
Sometimes paternity leave is not enough. Due to different reasons, many families (both local and expat) have decided to have the father become the primary caregiver at home. To accommodate the growing number of men fitting this role in Shanghai, a couple of dads started the official Guy Tai group almost 10 years ago. While the group has had a flux in membership numbers over the years, it has always maintained a welcome environment and open invitation for fathers of any age or nationality to bond and share knowledge on a common interest: raising their children.
Jay Sorensen, Aik Leong and Tal Surmon are seasoned members of the Guy Tai group, each with different reasons for taking on the role of a stay-at-home dad. While Sorensen is retired and looking after his 11-year-old son, Surmon has taken a break from cooking professionally to raise his two young daughters while his wife pursues a career in Shanghai. Leong, on the other hand, has been a stay-at-home dad for years and is now in a period of transition as his kids are getting older. “I’m no longer a guytai per se, as I’m running a business as well. Since I don’t have to worry about bringing home the bacon, it allows me to be really flexible [with my schedule] and still take care of the kids,” he explains.
The Guy Tai group meets every third week of the month for lunch while the kids are at school. Otherwise, events are spontaneous and all communication happens via email and WeChat. “The events are organized when one person says, ‘I want to do something’ and sends out an email asking who is interested in joining,” Leong tells us. Activities range from bike rides and factory tours to casual nights watching sports.
While these men love staying at home with their kids, they admit that they still have to confront the stigma around what they do constantly. Surmon adds, “The majority of the people in those groups (such as PTA) are women and they can be quite exclusive. It’s a little intimidating being the only guy there! It can be hard to break the ice sometimes and be treated as an equal. Many women used to ask, ‘What else do you do in addition to being a stay-at-home dad?’ It used to get to me, but it doesn’t bother me so much anymore.” The others immediately agreed, nodding in unison and share similar experiences.
But being a guytai does have its perks. “The hours are good and everything is flexible being a stay-at-home dad. Almost all of the dads in the group have had a career in the past and had to move on because of their wives’ jobs. [Many] find it to be a good change,” Sorenson says.
“The lack of rigidity is good and it’s like being your own boss, well that is, until your wife gets home,” Surmon jokes.
Getting serious quickly, they explain what a life-changing experience this has been for all of them. Surmon says, “After working for as hard and long as I did in my career, to be able to do this is so refreshing. I’m a chef by profession, and for me that means working 90 to 100 hours per week. I would be up in the dark and leave before anyone is awake and then I would be lucky if my wife was still awake when I got home, so I felt like I really wasn’t seeing my family. My youngest was born and then all of a sudden she turned two and I felt like I had hardly ever seen her. Obviously, I had, but it felt like I was missing the whole thing. After a chat with my wife we decided that we would swap and we relocated to Shanghai when she got a job. I think she is missing the kids now, but she is loving her job and she has a good balance.”
Leong adds, “Being a stay-at-home dad is an experience that none of my friends back at home have had. How many guys get to hear their kid come home and yell, ‘I’m home, Dad!’ This whole thing has been a wonderful and unique experience.”
Learn more at guytai.net.