June 18, 2011

CHINA: Even dads get the blues

SHANGHAI / The Shanghai Daily / Features / June 18, 2011

By Wang Jie 

Becoming a father means becoming a man and shouldering more responsibility, whether he's stern dad, caring dad or a bit of both. 
Photo by CFP

THE joys of fatherhood are celebrated tomorrow, but in high-stress urban China paternity means more than bliss - there's a lot of stress involved in being the man of the family. Wang Jie talks to dads.

The Chinese saying ci mu yan fu means "caring mother, stern father" and it has described families in China for thousands of years.

Of course, Chinese family roles today are not as iron-clad as in the past, though mom is generally in charge of the household, the expenses and children's education.

The caring moms today may in fact be the domineering "tiger moms," "helicopter moms" and stern disciplinarians. Dads may be the gentler calming influence in a household, the one who reassures and comforts the child. In other words, ci fu yan mu, or caring father, stern mother.

Still, becoming a father really does mean becoming a man and shouldering more responsibility, whether he's stern dad, caring dad or a bit of both.

Quite a few young fathers, many of them reared as sheltered single children in a high-stress society, don't seem to be up to it and they're under a lot of pressure.

New fathers who are older, say in their 40s, also face problems.

And men who have been fathers for some years definitely don't have it easy as worry about their child's future and financing their education never ends.

Here are three fathers, two brand-new fathers and one well-seasoned.

'I still feel like a little boy'

"Frankly, I'm not fully prepared to be a father at all. Sometimes I feel I am still a little boy myself," says Jay Wu, a 28-year-old salesman who has a 3-month-old son.

"When I first held my son in my arms, my heart suddenly sank. I'm not sure I can afford the burden on my shoulders," he adds.

The couple's flat (a prerequisite for marriage) was bought by their parents who still financially support them in raising the baby.

"It's unfair to my mom and dad," Wu says, with a sigh.

"But my wife and I together earn less than 10,000 yuan (US$1,515) a month. The cost of living is so high in Shanghai. It costs around 2,000 yuan for imported milk powder and diapers every month. And around 1,500 yuan for the car, gas and parking.

"Without our parents' support, our life's quality would drop sharply due to the baby."

The grandparents are also largely responsible for rearing the child, which is common in China, but it's stressful on parents.

"When both of us are so exhausted when we get home from work, it would be a nightmare to deal with a crying baby."

The baby lives with Wu's parents. Every weekend the couple goes to their house to play with their son and give grandparents a break.

"Sometimes I think my parents are more like parents to my own son that we are," says Wu. Now he must work harder and longer.

"I can't use all the money from my parents' savings. My wife and I often work overtime to keep our jobs and position ourselves for promotion. We give up time with our son."

'Not as much energy'

Financial stress is more of a problem for younger fathers, but older dads have their own special blues.

Jason Ma, a 40-something businessman who owns a real estate company, still recalls the moment when he first heard his infant daughter cry. "She is my little princess and the whole meaning of my life," says Ma. His daughter is 8 months old.

At first he aimed to be "the dearest feeding daddy," since his parents are too elderly to help and he didn't want an ayi, or nanny.

"A stranger couldn't do better than I," he said. "Most ayis are not so trustworthy."

But Ma overestimated his physical reserves. For a couple in their 40s, babies are tough.

"She wakes up and cries every two hours at night to be fed, which is a torture for us," Ma says. "Of course, my love for her is boundless, but my body has its limits. I am not as energetic as I used to be. Though I intended to rear her all by myself, I admit that I failed."

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