The man of the house

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 04 Mar 2018

HE cooks, cleans and tends to his two kids.

And the reason why he swapped his suit and tie for an apron and a broom is simply because it was best for the family.

The “househusband”, who wishes to be known as Zack James, quit his office job as an assistant manager a few months ago so that he could have more time to look after his son and daughter.

“My wife is a creative director at an advertising agency and works really long hours. She is doing very well and earns more than me.

“After discussing with her, we decided it was best that I quit my full-time job,” says the 40-year-old, who still pursues freelance work from home.

The decision is also a selfless one, as James doesn’t want his wife to stop doing what she loves.

As for the negative perception against househusbands by some quarters in Malaysian society, he brushes it off, saying he doesn’t care too much about what others say.

“People are entitled to their opinions. It’s okay because I care more about my family’s interests.

“Why should I put my ego ahead of that?” James says.

Spending more time at home will also enable him to help his 12-year-old daughter prepare for her UPSR examinations this year.

Previously, James sought help from his aged parents-in-law or paid a daycare centre to fetch the children from school to their religious classes.

“But since I have time to do that now, I will save as much as RM200 a month on such transportation fees,” he says.

James is part of a growing pool of Malaysian men who have decided to become househusbands.

In November last year, Deputy Human Resources Minister Datuk Ismail Abdul Muttalib told the Dewan Rakyat that there were about 60,000 househusbands in Malaysia.

The ministry’s data showed that there were 2.91 million domestic workers, including housewives or homemakers.

Of the total, around 60,000 men were homemakers, Ismail was quoted as saying in news reports. This is in contrast to 2.4 million women homemakers.

It was also reported that there were 14.6 million employees nationwide, of which nine million are men and 5.6 million are women.

But should women workers outnumber men one day, employers say there is no difference as what matters is work performance.

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan says it is “not illogical” or impossible for more Malaysian men to be househusbands.

This is in view of the current trend in university enrolments, with over 50% of public higher learning institutions in Malaysia having more female students than males.

“With higher education, women can command better salaries.

“So, if there ever comes a time when one parent wants to quit their job to take care of the children, it will be the spouse with the lower salary,” he says.

But despite this, Shamsuddin admits that many Malaysian men wouldn’t readily trade their jobs to be homemakers.

“It isn’t widely accepted in our culture yet. Some men also have big egos, which may prevent them from taking this path,” he adds.

He stresses that employers have no preference for male or female workers, as an individual’s work performance is what counts.

On the Government looking into extending the seven-day paternity leave for male civil servants, he says the private sector offers an average of three days.

There are requests to increase the number of paternity leave days, but Shamsuddin says the cost shouldn’t be borne by employers alone.

“The Government can provide employers with a subsidy if it wants the private sector to increase the number of paternity leave days.

“Based on current wages, providing one day leave for all workers in Malaysia can come up to a cost of RM600mil,” he says.

Teh Eng Hock, a former public relations manager, left the corporate world to spend more time with his three-year-old son.

“However, it is impossible to have zero income and sustain household expenses.

“I also have to think about future healthcare and education bills,” says the 35-year-old, who is now an independent communications consultant.

With his own consultancy, Teh is able to strike a balance between work and home duties.

A usual weekday routine starts with him getting his toddler ready before dropping him off at the daycare centre.

At around 5pm, Teh starts preparing dinner.

“Either me or my wife will pick up our son at 6pm. We’ll have dinner the moment he gets home,” he says.

On weekends, Teh usually spends his morning at the wet market buying fresh produce, but the whole family tags along if they go to hypermarkets.

Ever since he became more hands-on at home, he says his time management skills have improved.

“I’m also better at planning ahead. It seems trivial, but deciding when to thaw frozen meats, estimating the time needed to braise or stew dishes, and chopping vegetables or cooking rice in between will enable you to serve your meal on time.

“And believe me, a hungry toddler is a cranky toddler,” he quips.

While it is widely accepted that men should do some housework, Teh agrees that many will still judge men who are full-time househusbands.

“They would probably be perceived as jobless bums.

“But if you’re doing it for the right reasons, don’t let societal expectations weigh you down,” he says.

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