After eight months of leave, father Fredrik and his son Axel have grown close and the family has become even more united. But combining a job at sea with the role of father to small children is no easy match.
“Lala!” Axel, 18 months old, is jumping up and down and pointing enthusiastically at the figures dancing on the screen in his favourite TV programme, the Teletubbies. But he does not watch very much television during the days. Fredrik Lundmark, by profession an officer at Älvtank, has taken paternal leave since June last year and has not had any problems finding things to do during that time.
– I thought that I would perhaps start to get really bored after a while, but that has not been the case at all. We have been to the open daycare centre or in the park almost every day. Sometimes we have been to the Katarina Seaman’s Club for a snack, and a couple of other seamen have had their children with them too, says Fredrik, sitting on the sofa with his wife Johanna beside him.
By taking out compensation and parental leave at the same time, Fredrik has managed to put together a really long stay at home – something which both he and Johanna appreciate.
– It has been absolutely brilliant, she says. We have become even closer, and Fredrik and Axel have great contact with each other. We are overjoyed about having all this time together.
Fredrik agrees. For him to take time off and provide ground service while Johanna has been able to continue her career has given several positive outcomes. As well as making ties between them stronger, they have both gained a better understanding of each other’s situation.
Reversed gender roles
– We have really reversed our gender roles. Fredrik has taken on the cleaning, washing and cooking while I have been able to engage in my new job. It has made me feel less stressed, says Johanna.
The Lundmarks have to help each other out to make it all possible. Fredrik is away four weeks at a time. Johanna is a graduate economist and has a demanding job locally as a newly appointed private market manager at a Stockholm branch of Nordea bank. She grew up in Mariehamn on Åland and Fredrik’s home town was Västervik, so they do not have any relatives in the city.
– We have planned for Johanna to work a bit less when I am away since we don’t want Axel to have such long hours at his daycare centre. When I return I take over at home so that Johanna can focus on her work. It is important for us that Axel grows up in good conditions, says Fredrik.
They also explain that things have been very difficult at times, such as when Axel was less than a month old and Fredrik was about to go to sea for the first time since they had become parents.
– I didn’t know much about children, I didn’t know Axel’s personality at the time, and since I’d had a Caesarean I was not allowed to lift anything. It was hard when the decision came that Fredrik had to start work again, and I felt down for two days before he left. But I stayed with my family on Åland and they gave me the support that I needed, says Johanna and looks at Fredrik.
– Yes, there were many thoughts going around in our heads at that time and it was really no fun, he says. But when you step onboard you have to be calm and collected, and you must be able to concentrate on the job, even if your family is always with you in your thoughts.
Families in which the father has taken leave with the first child have 30 % fewer divorces than others and go on to have more children. This is shown in a dissertation, “Gendering family dynamics”, from 2001. In 2007 fathers took out 21 % of parental leave.
Ultrasound photograph by e-mail
When he is at sea they keep contact by telephone, e-mail and Internet. Thanks to their web camera, Fredrik can also see how Axel is growing. The very first photograph of his son, which was by ultrasound, was scanned in and sent by e-mail.
– We were just passing Gibraltar when I received it. It was an extraordinary feeling, says Fredrik.
Just before the birth the ship was delayed and forced to lie at anchor off the coast of Scotland for an unknown period of time, and then both of them were really worried.
– We didn’t know whether Fredrik would manage to get home in time, and the hall was packed with prams and beds that had been delivered but which I couldn’t move as I was 9 months’ pregnant. Then I felt really despondent, says Johanna.
– At the shipping company they pulled out all the stops to try to get me ashore. In the end we managed to lease a lighter. It chugged away for four or five hours, and I never thought I would make it on the flight. But in the end it all worked out fine. I arrived home on Thursday evening and the day after we registered at the hospital. Axel was born on the following Monday.
From time to time they have talked about Fredrik getting a job ashore. He has received a couple of interesting offers but has turned them down.
– The jobs you are offered ashore are mostly related to shipping and often involve more days travelling than I have at the moment. On top of that I have worked more than 20 years at sea, and I still enjoy it.
Johanna says that she would not try to make him change his mind.
– I promised myself never to ask Fredrik to work ashore – things could go really wrong. He is a real seaman, he enjoys what he does and he is proud of his profession. That’s who he is and I respect that.
Both of them are also satisfied with the support and understanding they have received from their employers, not least Älvtank, who have been behind them 100%.
– They have been involved since before Axel was born, and there were never any problems with me taking out paternal leave as long as this. The managing director is about the same age as me, and that probably helps him to understand my situation better.
It is soon time for Fredrik to start working again on the shipping company’s latest acquisition, Ramina, which was delivered from a shipyard in Turkey last autumn.
– Then we will have to see how things work out at home, but if problems should come up we will solve them as they arise. I really understand now how much work, energy and courage are demanded from seamen’s’ wives who, like Johanna, fix things at home every day while their husbands are at sea.