The Cost of Remote Fatherhood

COVID gave fathers the gift of being home with their baby, while working remotely. If office work becomes the norm again, they have a lot to lose

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LONG DISTANCE FATHERHOOD
Credit: Illustration by Aron Ehrlich
Uri Talshir
Uri Talshir
Uri Talshir
Uri Talshir

As of now, the most magical moments of fatherhood happen when my baby daughter, Alona, awakens from a little nap sometime during the day. After a snooze of about 45 minutes, she will stretch her limbs, pop open her eyes, stare into space and then smile. Sometimes she’ll also cry a little, but then she'll calm down pretty quickly. And that’s how it will go for two or three minutes – watching, checking me out, hypnotizing me. At least up until now, before she starts crawling or talking, this wake-up ritual is the most wonderful part of my entire day. And I am able to experience it only thanks to the fact that I work from home.

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The post-COVID era has already made its way into the labor market. The masks have been removed and everyone is preoccupied with going back to the office. Recent studies show that teams that work together in an office are more productive and creative, and I myself find that group interaction in the common space positively contributes to my own creative endeavors. All of which sounds quite logical, except that there's one other important thing to say about COVID-19 and its variants: It has given fathers an opportunity to raise their babies in the first few months of their lives. To actually raise them, in the full sense of the word. After all, if there had been no pandemic, and we had never been given the opportunity of working remotely, men who had only now become parents would have been compelled to go back to the office within a few weeks, from morning to evening, five days a week.

Until the start of the pandemic, fathers were expected to make do with parenthood based primarily on whatsapp pics and clips of their infants.

After Passover, we went back to working at the office practically full-time. In the paternal context, I’m grateful for the circumstances that created this reality for me during my first months as a parent. In a world without COVID, I would not have managed to experience fatherhood so intensly – and not just my daughter’s sweet awakenings, of course. I would not have been exposed to the subtleties, the new sounds, the micro-movements and the countless changes that are still taking place.

She is already six months old now. In the course of these months, I had the good fortune to spend enough time with her to feel like I'm an integral part of this unique, unripe stage of life.

Credit: Nadia Levinskaya / Shutterstock.com

Going back to the office was accompanied by a sense of relief that the pandemic was behind us, as well as the satisfaction of regularly meeting again with people whose company I enjoy. But it also means that I finished this intensive span of work since Passover with the feeling that I did not really see my daughter. We have had about two hours together every evening – I managed to give her a bath, spend a little time with her and then put her to bed. The smile on her face when she saw me come into the house gave me pleasure, but in the course of those days there were a million things that she and her mother experienced without me.

For example, the first time she grabbed her foot with her hands and put it in her mouth, or when she fell asleep in her stroller as they were making their way down the street, or that other time that she suddenly began grabbing objects on the living room table and throwing them onto the floor.

I received detailed updates and filmed documentation on these and other developments, but I did not see them happening with my own eyes. I wasn’t there as I had been in the first few months, when I rocked her to sleep, held her, watched and breathed her every moment. And when something interesting happened while I was working in the other room, my partner would immediately call me to the living room so that I could see it for myself.

The smile on her face when she saw me come into the house gave me pleasure, but in the course of those days there were a million things that she and her mother experienced without me.

Over the past two years, employers and enterprise models have been analyzing how efficient and content we are in an office as opposed to working remotely, but no one speaks about remote fatherhood. After all, until the start of the pandemic, it was decreed upon fathers that they remain home for no more than a few weeks following their child’s birth, and make do with parenthood based primarily on WhatsApp pictures and videos.

When Alona grows up, everything will certainly be different and more complex. At some point, she’ll go to kindergarten and after that to school – and by the nature of things, she will increasingly experience more situations without me. My partner and I will share the duties – each time, one of us will leave early to pick her up and the other will continue doing what he or she was doing.

I’m happy that at least in those first months, I spent a great deal of time here at home with her and next to her, in contrast to generations of men who returned to the office much sooner. Maybe some of them did so quite willingly, but the way I see it they lost out big time. And to think that a few generations ago, we didn't have the technological means of conducting a video call or receiving dozens of photos all day long.

As far as I’m concerned, a physical presence in the office is far more preferable to working from home in the long term. But even if going into the office becomes the norm again, there’s no good reason for men to give up on those first few months with their baby. In my case, doing so at times complicated and delayed work-related tasks, but that is the only way that I could set out on this journey together with my partner, and get to know Alona, my little daughter, during a period of time that I will never get back.

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