In the developed world, the number of fathers who act as the primary caregiver is on the rise with attitudes toward non-traditional fatherhood slowly but surely evolving. Here in the Czech Republic, figures from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs show that little more than 1.5% of fathers draw parental support; while that may seem like a miniscule faction of the population, this number is a substantial leap from a generation ago when men weren’t even allowed in the delivery room – what’s more telling is the fact that there’s now a Czech word (aktivní otcovství) for active fatherhood. The Czech and expat dads we spoke to are certainly the definition of the active father.
Stay-at-Home Dads, Unite!
Daniel Zahradníček is an example of this new breed of Czech father. A sound engineer and composer, Mr Zahradníček found that his work allowed him to take a greater role in raising his daughter.
“Without any ‘let’s make a decision’, I already knew I wanted to be and I can be around,” he said. Another motivation was to ensure that his American wife had time to get back into her profession as a writer and editor.
Concern over his spouse’s career was equally important to British dad Scott Malone. Similar to Mr Zahradníček, Mr Malone said that his work, in this case as a teacher, gave him the flexibility to take over the parenting reins, so that his wife could continue to work.
“My wife is a ballet dancer. Staying at home allows her to continue in a career which has quite a short shelf life,” he said. Both men found that public areas were well-equipped for parents. Large shopping centers have separate changing rooms. The metro is sufficiently marked to show where you can get access with a pram and which stops have lifts.
Neither Mr Zahradníček or Mr Malone applied for the paid parental leave (rodičovská dovolená) that follows maternity leave (mateřská dovolená), which starts between six and eight weeks before birth and continues for 28 weeks (37 weeks for the second and subsequent children). Until recently, only women were eligible and because the vast majority of women are the primary caregivers, they have traditionally been the main recipients of these payments.
The men’s experiences did differ, however, in terms of the public’s general reaction to them.
“Dude, Where’s Your Wife?”
When he’s been out with his daughter in the stroller, Mr Malone finds that women offer to help him. Men don’t.
The major cultural difference he mentioned was that Czech people valued longer periods of breastfeeding, which was obviously not possible in the Malones’ case. However, given that his daughter’s pediatrician routinely praised Mr Malone for the ‘perfect job’ he was doing with his daughter, it would seem that this practice is not so ingrained.
Mr Zahradníček has found that being the only father in the park with a stroller tends to get him more attention. That attention can often come in the form of unwanted advice. In the first few months of his daughter’s life, whenever Mr Zahradníček took her into a store or even walking with the pram, people would ask him whether his daughter was wearing sufficient layers of clothes. Some people even questioned why his wife wasn’t around and suggested that he take his daughter home.
In public offices, Mr Zahradníček felt the clerks were especially unfriendly because they acted as if he had brought his daughter in an effort to garner special treatment. On the other hand he found his friends and family are supportive.
“Our friends find it nice that we ‘share’ the care,” he said. “My dad never changed a diaper, so my family is amazed.”
Beer Garden-Playgrounds: Bringing Us Together
Michael Bolan, a self-employed Irish accountancy consultant may not be a full-time stay-at-home father but he and his British wife find themselves in the unique position of virtually sharing the childcare 50-50. Working from Locus Workspace gives Mr Bolan a flexibility of schedule that wouldn’t have been possible in his previous high-profile career. “I would see it all the time, working in a very corporate enviornment, where children’s lives are outsourced to other people,” he says. “I find that kind of strange and counter-intuitive.”
Like Mr Zahradníček and Mr Malone, Mr Bolan has experienced a raised eyebrow or two from Czech traditionalists. “Last Christmas our eldest was running a high fever,” he says. “I left my wife at home with our youngest and took him to the doctor. It turned out to be quite serious: pneumonia. I was told he’d be admitted and that one of his parents had to stay in the room with him. ‘That’ll be me,’ I said and the doctor replied, ‘Normally it’s the mother.’ So I said, ‘Not in this case!’ The look was just one of shock and disbelief. We had to have our own room because I couldn’t share with the other women.”
And yet for the most part, Mr Bolan finds Czech culture ready for the gradual shift to more egalitarian parenting. “You go walking in Riegrovy Sady and see all these dads with their kids and think ‘Wow! People are so openminded!’ until you notice that the playground is 10 meters from the beer garden. But if that’s what it takes to get dads involved, that’s great.”
Help a father out
Mr Malone is a member of Bumps, Babies and Tots, an expat parents’ group. He says that plenty of dads get involved, many of them primary caregivers.
The League of Open Men have a program called Fathers Welcome which is run in association with the Union of Family and Community Centers and the Fatherhood Institute. The aim of the project is to increase the prestige of fatherhood in the Czech Republic through promoting fatherhood as a positive lifestyle choice among employers. Companies which support fathers who take an active or primary role will be designated as “Fathers Welcome”. English-language description of the initiative here.
Nudný otec is a newly opened cafe/community organization geared toward “Bored Dads”. Visit for child-friendly activities, food and drink, and/or a comfortable couch to recover on while your kids play.
TátaFest is an annual outdoor festival in celebration of Father’s Day. Slated for this year, live music performances and fun activities for both dads and kids. This year’s event takes place June 15, 2014 at Stromovka park.
What is fatherhood like for you in the Czech Republic? Share your experiences and tips.