Friday, September 03, 2004

News in Briefs.

Tidy whities to be precise.

Susan Long hit the nail on the head today in the commentary section of the Straits Times today, managing to bring up an issue that our dear minister of labour (O, the irony) didn't. Paternity leave. Why the hell, if the government is so concerned about family values, is there a lack of support for dads? Are we just the sperm donors who pull out (all pun intended) after the baby's conceived? Are we so secure in the nation of @$$holes that we've created that we're fine with bringing up children without a strong paternal figure in the foreground? There's a reason why the kids that we're churning out in Singapore are mindless, feckless thugs and thugettes and that's because the parents are taken out of the equation too quickly. Dads have been cut completely out (aside from the 3 days that we get to play with the infant for a while...) and damn it, I'm pissed off.
So even the most egalitarian western societies don't have the majority of men taking the paternity leave that's provided for them. But 40% of us (Long, 2004
) would still take it just so that we can enjoy our children or give our wives the support that they need. That's the thing about being "progressive", you leave the choice to us.
I held my colleague's baby the other day for the first time (tentatively and very carefully without feeling the urge to punt it like an American football, a nightmare that I had once...) and I know that if I had a child of my own, I wouldn't want to let it go. 3 days? *Verb* that.
Sue Long provides a whole load of good reasons to actually allow us dads to have paternity leave, but I say this. I want to be a father to my child, not just the dude that delivers the swimmers.

To this, I'll just quote from politics 101 for Packrats.

Never...You bought a new car?

Yes, sir.

And you paid sticker price.

Section 2635...

You need to look at the next page - subsection B, paragraph four, Mamie Yokum.


[reading] "The definition of 'gift' excludes opportunities and benefits including favorable rates and commercial discounts available to the public at large."

I did look at the next page.


[wagging her finger] I work next door to the Oval Office, sir.

Mrs. Landingham walks back behind her desk.

Caesar's wife must be above reproach.
And that's all I have to say about that.

Meanwhile, there are calls on the forum to continue CCAs through Saturdays. Citing the sad lack of time for CCA commitments and all that crap. Meanwhile neither letter addresses the concept of more family time. Are we really ready to sacrifice the kids' family time so that they can spend their Saturdays undergoing facist training programmes? If the kids really don't mind, I don't mind. That's because I'm going to be at home snuggling up to my wife while they're playing mindless automaton. As far as I know, I'm not really required to be there. So to that bloody stupid idea, "*Verb* you!"

And for those who got to the links too late: The following will explain all that.

"Bringing up baby: Why dads can't be left out
By Susan Long

THE men don't get it. This no longer refers only to the new United Overseas Bank Lady's Card; it applies also to the Government's latest basket of baby goodies.

Women, who have been plied with 50 per cent more maternity leave, infant-care subsidies and tax rebates, are cooing over the bells and whistles while many men are up in arms over getting squat. Their loudest cries are over being denied more paternity leave, which stays at the current three days for civil servants.

Mr Peter Lim, 37, has exhausted his annual leave through caring for his month-old newborn son. 'Where's the man in the equation?' he rails.

Since cutting his 3.24kg son's umbilical cord on Aug 10, he has spent his waking hours 'fathering two babies' - pink-cheeked Linus Mark and his ashen-faced wife, who is battling post-natal blues.

The associate director of an accounting firm, and author of Little Miracles - The Journey To Parenthood, is not alone in making his paternity leave plea.

Given half a chance, he says, Singapore fathers would jump at being more involved, judging from the fact that every expectant mother he saw at antenatal classes was accompanied by an eager husband.

But yet to be persuaded to his point of view is the Singapore Government, which sees him as a model, modern - but minority - dad. The Government bases its own point of view on nature, nurture, societal set-up and cultural norms which, it maintains, are not easily changed.

Unfortunately for Mr Lim, reams of statistics support the Government's stance. These show that even in the most egalitarian Western countries, most men don't take paternity leave.

Across Europe, only an average of 40 per cent of new fathers stay at home, despite paternity leave being enshrined as a right. In Britain, according to official Inland Revenue figures released earlier this month, only one in five working fathers exercised his entitlement to two weeks of paid paternity leave, which was instituted last year.

Initial forecasts were that 80 per cent of the 400,000 British workers who become fathers every year would take it up, but estimates showed that only 79,000 did.

That led Mr Malcolm Bruce of the Liberal Democrats to remark sardonically: 'The low take-up of paid paternity leave indicates that some men are still influenced by our macho culture; 1950s Britain is still alive and well. The cultural revolution of the 1960s, which the prime minister recently derided, seems to have passed many by.'

Apparently, what worries men most about taking time off to bond with baby is what their male colleagues will think of them. Or worse, whether their bosses will hold it against them.

Yet, roping in fathers has become the new frontier in the worldwide fight against sliding fertility rates. Despite the lukewarm male response, industrialised countries are increasingly extending paternity leave to fathers; or parental leave, which can be taken by either the mother or father, to couples.

Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Italy, for example, have extended their paid parental leave periods, mandating that at least one month be reserved for fathers on a 'use it or lose it' basis.

Austria, desperate to improve on its total fertility rate of 1.35 children per woman, now offers three years' extended childcare leave - on condition that dad consumes at least six months of it before the child turns three.

At least another 21 countries offer supplementary parental leave during junior's teething years, for use by either parent. And the numbers are growing.

These moves are in spite of the fact that European Commission figures show parental leave take-up rates of near zero for men, compared to over 90 per cent for women. The few exceptions are progressive Nordic countries like Iceland, Sweden and Norway.

Why do many countries persevere in pushing for dad's involvement? Could form perhaps be more important than function in this exercise? When is something with limited use not completely useless?

Most of all, could the Singapore Government be missing something here? Must it pay more heed to the flurry of suggestions to mandate at least two weeks of paternity leave, as is fast becoming the Western norm?

Here are four convincing reasons why it should:

Signalling the way forward

THE first reason is symbolic. As a statement issued by the People's Action Party Women's Wing in February this year put it, mandating a decent length of paternity leave would help 'eradicate all stereotypes' and establish that children are a 'shared responsibility between husband and wife'.

It would also cement a culture that supports an active fathering role, as well as dispel the ingrained notions that taking time off for children is 'women's business' and that men who take paternity leave are 'not serious about their careers'.

It is already the way forward

EMPLOYERS are beginning to cotton on to the fact that offering new dads time off keeps their companies competitive. US companies like American Express and Deloitte and Touche have started offering two weeks' fully-paid paternity leave. It is also reaching the upper echelons, with well-heeled fathers supplementing it with vacation time, sick days or unpaid leave to nurse newborns.

Last October, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, a well-known workaholic, stunned the country by taking a month's paternity leave to care for his newborn son.

Shortly after his son's birth, he beamed: 'I am a father and nothing else matters more than that. Nothing... The only growth figures that I'll be thinking about is the rising weight and rising height of the baby.'

Rise of house-husbands?

EXISTING policy weighs all pro-natal tax rebates, leave entitlements and subsidies in favour of working mothers. But is this wise?

It is not impossible that over a few years, such a gender-slanted policy may alter couple dynamics.

Some savvy young Singaporean parents are now doing their sums, totting up the tax breaks and concluding that, in a household where both parties earn about the same, it may make more cents for mum to work and for dad to stay at home. Mr Lim notes that several of his dual-income friends have latched on to the formula that 'WM + NBB = SAHD (working mother + newborn baby = stay at home dad)' and are making plans in that direction. After all, there are few perks for stay-at-home mums but plenty for working ones.

Of course, the rise of house-husbands here faces its largest impediment in the form of the notably fragile Singaporean male ego. But the crunch issue, as is often the case here, tends to be economic.

Prescription for non-prescription

THE fourth and final case for paternity leave is to be consistent with the Government's newly-declared, non-prescriptive stance on parenthood.

At the National Day Rally on Aug 22, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged that parenthood is 'an intensely personal business'. The tone of the new baby measures indeed succeeds in doing away with many of the old, niggling discriminations based on a child's birth order, the mother's education, or her age.

But some work remains in its quest to be less pedantic about parenting. Instead of promoting the erstwhile ideal of working mums, the Government should make it easier for parents to choose according to their own circumstances and preferences. For starters, it could start substituting 'parental leave' for 'maternity leave' options, allowing either parent to utilise it.

Also, it should bump up paternity leave. This would immediately level the playing field for women at work and, at the same time, give men a break."

"Magazine says sorry to PM Lee for nepotism allegation
THE Economist magazine has apologised unreservedly to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for making false allegations that he was instrumental in appointing his wife Ho Ching to head Temasek Holdings.

The London-based weekly also apologised to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew for suggesting in an Aug 14 article about Temasek Holdings that he supported and condoned her appointment.

The Economist is paying damages along with its apology - S$210,000 for PM Lee and S$180,000 for MM Lee.

The Lees are donating the money to charity.

The apology, dated Sept 1, was published in the print and online edition of the magazine.

It referred to the article, 'Temasek, First Singapore, next the world', which was published in the magazine's Aug 14-20 print edition this year.

The Economist said in its apology that it recognised that the article meant or was understood to mean that 'Mr Lee Hsien Loong had appointed, or was instrumental in appointing, his wife, Mdm Ho Ching to Temasek Holdings, not on merit, but for corrupt nepotist motives for the advancement of the Lee family's interests' and that 'Mr Lee Kuan Yew supported or condoned Mdm Ho's appointment' for such motives.

The magazine admitted and acknowledged that these allegations were 'false and completely without foundation'.

'We unreservedly apologise to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew for the distress and embarrassment caused to them by these allegations.

'We undertake not to make further allegations to the same or similar effect,' said news weekly."

"Let CCAs continue on Saturdays
I REFER to the recent move to implement a five-day work week in the civil service, which would affect schools too.

I am a secondary student studying in an independent school, and I feel that this plan should not be extended to schools.

Right now, most of the students in my school have heavy co-curricular activities (CCA) commitments, alongside other responsibilities, such as school work and projects.

Most, if not all, of our weekdays are already taken up by numerous lessons and classes, leaving only weekends for CCA.

Like most of my friends, I stay back after school to attend to my commitments, which include twice-weekly Third Language classes, as well as thrice-weekly CCA training. Saturdays are also taken up by additional training.

I am a member of the school band, which is in the midst of preparing for the Singapore Youth Festival Central Judging Competition early next year. While these training sessions are numerous, I feel that every single one of them is necessary for us to prepare ourselves sufficiently.

Imposing a five-day week and prohibiting school activities on weekends will mean that those CCA training sessions or lessons originally scheduled on weekends will have to be crammed into the weekdays for us to achieve the same level of competency, usually at the expense of other commit-ments.

While it is uncertain that we will be able to manage with such a denser schedule, it is certain that standards will decline across the board.

While I understand the ration-ale behind the move for a shorter work week, I feel that its implementation will be extremely difficult, and will almost certainly compromise the quality of our CCAs and other commitments.

I am sure that most of us would be unwilling to accept such a compromise. Therefore I would urge the Government to give more thought and consideration to all parties that would be affected by this policy before deciding whether to implement it.


I REFER to the call by Mr Kesavan Sam Prasad to ban weekend homework and CCAs (ST, Aug 27) so that civil servants and others in the private sector can enjoy the weekend with their families. Many CCAs, especially the uniformed groups, hold their training on Saturdays. These uniformed groups usually have only one training session.

If we cancel CCAs on Saturdays, a separate time slot would have to be found which will mean a much later dismissal time during weekdays for students, as the training sessions usually last five to six hours, and parents will definitely be worried if the children get home too late.

I would also like to point out that it is detrimental to the students' health if they have to stand under the afternoon sun for long periods of time, as we in the uniformed groups have to go for parades occasionally.

This would not be a problem on Saturday as the training sessions are conducted mostly in the morning.

Despite the fact that the Government has announced a five-day week, I believe that CCAs should be allowed to continue on Saturdays.



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