x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

UAE househusbands do an honest day's work

Some husbands have not come to the UAE because they landed the job of their dreams - but because their wives did.

Some husbands have not come to the UAE because they landed the job of their dreams - but because their wives did.
Some husbands have not come to the UAE because they landed the job of their dreams - but because their wives did.

Nigel Bembridge's decision to relocate to Dubai in 2008 was not because he had just landed the job of his dreams, but because his wife did.

The 45-year-old Briton chose to follow his wife Sara's career as a business development director, rather than his own, simply because she earns more money.

And instead of looking for a job, the couple decided he should become a house husband - running the home and ferrying their seven-year-old son, Elliott, to school every day.

For Mr Bembridge, who ran his own property maintenance business in the UK before the move, it was a win-win situation.

"Sara was approached for the job and even though my business was going well, if you've got an excuse to pack up work and retire at the age of 40 then crack on," he says.

"We knew Sara would be doing a lot of travelling and if she was throwing herself into a new job, we didn't want to leave our son with a nanny. So if she was working late or away, he was always at home with me and that certainly eased Sara's mind."

Giving up his £25,000 (Dh142,141) annual salary, however, has not stopped Mr Bembridge from enjoying his new lifestyle, even though he admits the couple - who pay Dh225,000 a year in rent on their three-bedroom detached home with private pool in Arabian Ranches in Dubai and send their son to the Dh50,000-a-year Repton School - are no better off financially.

"Back in the UK, we were in a fur-lined rut," he says. "We had four to five foreign holidays a year, but Sara and I weren't seeing a lot of each other. We wanted a family life and now we've got that. But even though my wife's salary has doubled because she's no longer paying 40 per-cent tax, financially once you've taken away my salary and start factoring in the astronomical rents and school fees you end up with about the same."

Mr Bembridge is part of a growing generation of men who have decided to hang up their tie in favour of being stay-at-home dads.

With 42 per cent of fathers believing that family is the top priority in their lives, according to a recent survey by Bayt.com on working fathers in the Middle East, Mr Bembridge could be the envy of many dads who often work long hours and have little time to spend with their children.

In fact, 55 per cent of the survey's respondents said they were not offered paternity leave when their wives gave birth - proving that men are often low on the list when it comes to parental rights.

Meanwhile, house husbands are on the rise worldwide. In the UK, for example, women are the main breadwinners in nearly a third of all homes and the number of stay-at-home dads has risen tenfold in the past 10 years, according to the Women and Work Survey 2010 commissioned by the UK's Grazia magazine.

In Luxembourg, in 6 per cent of couples with only one spouse working, it is the man who stays at home, a study by CEPS found. And in Japan, nearly 30 per cent of married men would like to become a house husband, according to a survey conducted by the Kaji Kentei Jikko Iinkai.

This global trend indicates that becoming a house husband is an arrangement that can work both financially and personally for families.

Mr Bembridge spends his time doing the school run, walking the dog and managing the household chores, such as making the beds, shopping and cooking.

However, he draws the line when it comes to a few domestic duties. The family spends Dh500 a month on a pool cleaner, Dh250 a month on a gardener and Dh35 an hour for a cleaner, who comes three times a week.

"I'm living the Dubai dream," adds Mr Bembridge, who says the couple have also invested in two new cars - a Ford Explorer and a Hyundai Sante Fe. "I should do it myself, but is it worth it? My wife doesn't have to worry about the home at all and I can do what I want when I want. Sara's glad that I've got friends, that I'm playing golf twice a week and I'm not going to get bored. We're here to have a good time."

But while Mr Bembridge is certainly enjoying the good life, his friend and fellow house husband Rod Carnochan believes the decision to stay at home means taking on more domestic responsibility himself.

Mr Carnochan, 48, who moved to Dubai in October 2008 after his wife, Hayley, 38, secured a position as an HR manager in Abu Dhabi, laughs at Mr Bembridge's relaxed attitude towards household chores.

"My wife would happily pay for a maid or a gardener to make my life easier, but I'd feel useless if I was watching someone doing my garden when I can quite easily do it myself," he says. "I'd end up getting up and helping them do it. I couldn't sit down and do nothing.

"I try and get all my chores done at the beginning of the week, such as the ironing, cleaning, gardening and shopping, and then work in two or three easy mornings for a game of golf or the gym."

Mr Carnochan, who worked as a flooring specialist in the UK and earned between £10,000 and £16,000 a year, before tax, says he initially planned to work when they first moved to the UAE.

"The industry is very hard to get into and there's a lot of hard work for not much return, so it didn't work out," he says. "And I wasn't willing to put my daughter into the hands of someone else full time. I've seen for my own eyes how badly behaved some children who are left with nannies all day are and it doesn't feel right leaving her."

Mr Carnochan says there was also no financial need for him to work, as his wife's take-home pay is nearly twice her UK salary.

"It was an offer that was hard to turn down because it was really bad times for me work-wise in the UK. My work was very seasonal and depended on the economy; I could earn as little as £200 a week or as much as £1,200.

"So I couldn't say 'no we can't go' because we were in the middle of a recession and there wasn't much work coming in. And her jump in salary covered the fact I wasn't earning, so we're better off."

The couple, who live in The Springs in Dubai, where they spend Dh135,000 a year on rent and Dh30,000 on annual school fees for their four-year-old daughter, Maddie, spent carefully when they first arrived.

"Even if I was a millionaire, I wouldn't be a big spender," says Mr Carnochan. "There was no way we were going to come here and take out loads of loans that would get us stuck here. But I don't think I make compromises just because we're on one salary. If I want to do something that costs Dh1,000, I'll do it, but I won't go out every day or play golf every day because I don't do things for the sake of it."

For Steve Watson, a 47-year-old Australian, giving up work has given him a chance to explore his other interests, particularly a passion for sport.

The former media consultant moved to Abu Dhabi with his wife, Donna, the vice president of human resources for a global company, and their 14-year-old son, Matt, last year.

"This move was all about Donna and the changes in her remuneration and profession, so I decided to take a bit of time off to look after the family and become the houseboy," says Mr Watson, who lives in a three-bedroom villa in Al Raha with his family.

"I got straight into networking, getting involved with the Abu Dhabi Striders and the formation of the Abu Dhabi Falcons, an Australian football team. It took me a while to break into the local women's pilates group because I was the only lone male walking round the compound, but I now do pilates three times a week. I like being friendly and helping people and I didn't just want to be the male version of Jumeirah Jane who just meets people for coffee."

But while Mr Watson enjoys the slower pace of life, he says they made some conscious decisions not to overspend, such as downgrading their cars and choosing a cheaper rental option.

"When we came over, I was potentially going to be working so we were looking at four- or five-bed houses with a swimming pool, but after looking at the pros and cons we decided to rent a smaller villa that we are just renewing for Dh220,000," he says. "In Australia, I drove a sports car but now I drive a second-hand Jeep that cost me Dh36,000, while my wife bought a demonstration model of a BMW 3 series."

Although these men are happy with what they are doing, going against the grain can lead to problems, says Dr Raymond Hamden, a clinical and forensic psychologist at Dubai's Human Relations Institute.

"Men are designed to provide and protect, while women are designed to nourish and bond," says Dr Hamden, who warns that the shift in the balance of power can ultimately lead to divorce. "When the woman is the breadwinner or makes more money then the man, he feels impotent for not being able to provide and protect."

So where does the power lie financially? After all, if a waiter approaches a table where a couple are eating, they often hand the bill to the man first.

"I give my wife an allowance," laughs Mr Bembridge. "Our money is all pooled and if you said to Sara, 'How much is in the bank account now?', she wouldn't have a clue. My wife's cash-point card just sits in the drawer and if we go out, I take my wallet with me and she often doesn't."

But Mr Carnochan, who leaves his wife to handle all the main bills because everything is in her name, receives a Dh7,000 monthly allowance to cover household expenses and his own expenditure.

"If I want to go out in the evening then I dip into that," says Mr Carnochan. "I don't like asking for money, but I have no choice. I'm on my wife's work visa so she had to sort out all the bureaucracy when we first got here and that drove me mad because I felt so useless."

However, the men are unsure about resurrecting their careers.

"I would if the right offer came along where financially it benefitted us a lot, but I wouldn't go back for a bit of pocket money," says Mr Carnochan.

Mr Bembridge agrees: "At the moment, working is not something I want to do. Every now and then the wife says, 'Why don't you go and work part-time?', but if I do that I'd throw myself into it and end up working full time and we'd need help with Elliott.

"And being a house husband definitely suits us and our lifestyle and I'm much happier - maybe too happy as I've gained two stone in weight since we moved here."