Businessmen invest in their families as stay-at-home dads

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 November, 2010, 12:00am

For a society obsessed with wealth and success, few are blessed with the wisdom and opportunity to recognise the true value of family.

But Matthew Taylor and Brett Rierson, both highly successful business professionals, have decided to put family first. They opted out of the marketplace and became stay-at-home dads in order to invest in something that will truly last: their children.

Both were invited to speak at the American Chamber of Commerce's Women of Influence Awards to share their take on changing gender roles.

'The old barriers of sexes in the workplace have gone,' Taylor, a father in his late 40s with two children aged seven and 10, said. 'That means many more men find themselves in a position like mine, where the wife has actually ... a much higher earning capability than I have now.

'Her career was the one as a family unit we decided to focus on and support. And I don't feel that my manhood is in anyway impaired by the fact that I am the member of the family team who stays at home.'

But what made him give up his high-flying consulting career four years ago and part with the adrenaline-pumping excitement of the investment game?

Before becoming a stay-at-home dad, Taylor enjoyed a successful career in banking and finance, working in various cities, including London, Sydney, Singapore, and Hong Kong. About seven years ago he was flying to India from Singapore regularly over a six-month period.

He remembers vividly how he would fly back to Singapore on Saturday morning, and rush back to the airport again on Sunday night just after his then toddler was tucked into bed.

It was around that time that he started wondering how he could build a long-term, sustainable environment for the family.

'As a marriage unit, somebody has to go out and do the breadwinning, and somebody has to stay at home and keep the home front running,' he explained. 'And, for the moment, that's me.'

Taylor is concerned that when he eventually goes back into the job market prospective employers in the banking industry might frown upon his career break. But the experience of Rierson, a father of two daughters, is reassuring. Seven years ago he chose to opt out of in his career in the private sector as an investment consultant and began his two-year stint as a full-time dad.

Rierson, in his early 40s, says his wife comes from a Chinese family in Belgium where the work ethic is highly valued. As a result she inherited a restless energy that propels her to continuously pursue excellence in her career in the professional services sector. But Rierson comes from a progressive North American family comfortable with taking career breaks to relax, reflect and grow.

The greatest opposition to Rierson's decision to stay home came, surprisingly, from Rierson's mother, a dedicated advocate of egalitarian gender roles. Her reaction surprised herself, her son and her daughter-in-law. She found that when her friends asked what her son was doing she had nothing to say, and ended up pushing Rierson to find 'a proper job' - something she apologised for afterwards but continued to do nonetheless.

'We are supposed to be doing the thing she has been fighting all her life for in terms of equal gender roles - that the best person suited for the job does it,' he said. '[But] her son did not have a job. Her son did not have something that she defined was meaningful enough. And ...that was, quite frankly, a huge hassle.'

He eventually went back into the job market and now works as a senior officer for the World Food Programme's private partnership division, helping hundreds of thousands in the region beat hunger. He works from home but travels frequently throughout the region. His daughters are now seven years old and eight months old.

'I do not experience gender bias in the professional world. People are generally pretty positive, I would even say impressed,' Rierson said. 'If you present [your decision to stay home] as an active choice, people respect that, and almost every person you talk to says: 'Gosh, I wish I had done that'. That's the thing I have got repeatedly.'

His two years of stay-at-home parenting also benefited his career because, thanks to technology and the availability of a domestic helper, Rierson had the time to read extensively and work on creative projects - including an online voting-registration system that became popular in the US.

Taylor also agreed that being a stay-at-home parent had other enriching rewards. He also hired domestic helpers and so had time to read and reconnect. He was also able to keep in touch with his two other teenage children with his first wife in Britain, and flew back frequently to spend time with them. Being a stay-at-home dad in Hong Kong, he says, is easier than in Britain, given the different reactions from the two different circles of friends.

Rierson says Hong Kong is a place of intersecting cultures and being an expatriate allows him to select any cultural narrative that helps explain his choices.

'Men and women communicate in different ways and I think it is ... necessary, and it is smart to admit and recognise these differences,' he said. 'But the key for us is not to take it for granted to understand how the other does things, and the roles they want to assume.'