For many expat fathers living in the UAE, summer is a time for being left to their own devices, at least for a chunk of the season. Back home the school holidays might mean a family trip, some days off or finding ways of dealing with the children's boredom. Here, as soon as the school year finishes, a good many expat wives take the children to cooler climes, leaving dads to fend for themselves. Joern Oster, who lives in Abu Dhabi, waved farewell to his family for the summer in mid June.
"She took our two children with her, Leo, aged three and a half, and Kira, aged one and a half," says Oster. "But I don't mind too much. I get to play sports more. I am doing cardio training and cycling." The construction manager has visited his family in Germany since they left and come the end of their stay there, he will fly back for a few days to help his wife bring the two children home. In the meantime, he speaks to them every day using a video-chat computer program.
"I didn't miss my wife at first, but that only lasts a week. When you're apart for some time, it is nice to look forward to meeting again. "Last year, when we lived in Qatar, the kids were a bit too young to understand why I was leaving them and that was heartbreaking, but there has never been any serious problem. You get used to being by yourself quickly and when you are reunited, you get used to each other again very quickly too."
Rob Munn of Dubai is a seasoned "temporary bachelor". "I'm ex-military, from the Royal Air Force, so my wife and I have grown used to spending time apart and it's no longer really an issue," says Munn. "I use the time to get to the gym and work more. For instance, I'm attending a work meeting that I normally would say no to because of getting home to my wife and son." Even though he and his wife are used to being apart, Munn is in touch with her nearly every day, calling on the phone, via e-mail or video chat.
"I think it is hardest for my son, as he is only five. He is generally fine, but sometimes he gets a little teary." Dr Tara Wyne, a clinical psychologist at Human Relations Institute Dubai, says spending time apart as a family is a mixed blessing. "Being left behind for the summer can be positively anticipated by dad. It can be perceived as a chance to have some down time. Mums might find their roles and responsibilities increase to make up for the absence of the father, which can lead to strain and resentment of the father's apparently free time."
Wyne says that communication is an important part of keeping a summer separation as smooth as possible. "Spouses and parents need to talk and listen to what is going on as there are bound to be some changes within the family during this time." Stuart Foster of the UK has not found the isolation easy to adapt to. "We talk every day, but I still can't sleep at night," he says. "I'm not giving a sob story, but Kelly and I have been together since we were 15. When we moved to Dubai, she didn't arrive until four weeks after me, so I missed our son Oliver's second birthday. I also missed his third birthday and our anniversary last year, and I'll miss it again this year as both fall in the school holidays.
"When I first came out and I was alone, I thought I'd made the worst mistake. But in a way I'm lucky; I know people who are apart for much longer." Foster says he immerses himself in work as a means of coping. "The hardest thing about being apart is when I get home from work I think it just feels like I'm wasting my time. I sit there and think: 'What am I doing?' I feel life is just paused, like Groundhog Day. I even find myself staying at work later just because there is someone there to talk to."
Since starting a family, Foster says he spends most of the time at home, rather than going out socialising. "Dubai is a place where friends come and go quite easily and we are just quite happy with each other and doing our own thing. But while Kelly is gone, I do find myself socialising with other temporary bachelors. I was at a brunch table of four sad bachelors recently and two of us have young children. We ended up entertaining a small child who was with one of the guests as we both miss our own children."
He admits that in the lead-up to their separation, the idea of having time alone was appealing. "Six weeks before Kelly goes back to the UK I think: 'Yeah!' But within a few days I want her back." Markus Koerber of Dubai, a general manager for a construction company, confesses that since his wife Eva took their two young sons home to Germany for the summer he's been working late at the office nearly every night.
"I don't have anything to come home to and the temptation to stay late and finish the tasks for that day is too strong. "I can leave the office with no little bits to do for the next day, so I am always ahead with my work. It makes no difference if you're alone and you come home from work at six or 10, because you'll just end up falling asleep in front of the TV anyway. "I work more, without a doubt, because if you have five things to do at the end of the day, you want to finish them all and start something new in the morning."
Koerber says he looks forward to having time to himself, but that disappears once his wife gets on the plane. "Before she goes away I think I'll enjoy myself, but you do miss each other. We talk over the internet every day though. She has to go home. There they have grandparents, friends. It isn't so bad, though. I have colleagues who are apart from their families for two years and that is very tough."
Of course, even a long summer separation ends eventually. "Reunion is typically a time of happiness and celebration, but it can take time for families to get to know each other again," Wyne says. "There can be some stresses during a reunion. These have to be acknowledged and adjusted to. A little distance is not unusual in the beginning, but typically this should resolve itself after the family has had some time to be together."