Fern & Rose meets: Matt Berry
Matthew Berry is a software engineer in Wellington. He’s also Mr Fern & Rose and dad to our daughter Alexandra. He talked to me about the flexibility his work offers, feeling like my support team in the Tour de France of parenting, and what he thinks of my mum skills. It’s fair to say he thought this might be a trap of some kind; he was a little nervous at the start of our conversation …
Fern & Rose (F&R): Hello Matthew Berry.
Matt Berry (MB): Oh dear.
F&R: Tell me about being a dad.
MB: It’s pretty good.
F&R: … Tell me more about being a dad.
MB: [Laughs] It’s fulfilling. Apart from the tiredness, it’s pretty much everything I hoped it would be. The hardest part is missing things when I’m at work. I’ll think something’s cool and new, and you’re like ‘oh she’s been doing that for ages’. But she makes every day brighter because we get to see her experiencing things for the first time. She’s basically our little meerkat, looking around and being excited about things.
I feel like your support team. I’m like the dude in the car with the bikes on the roof as you’re cycling through the Tour de France of parenting and I’m keeping up with you and changing your tyres when you need them.
F&R: And in this context, tyres are tea and chocolate?
MB: Yeah, and nappies and stuff.
F&R: So how am I doing as a mum?
MB: You’re doing fine…! No, you’re doing really well. I think you probably need to work out more effective ways of making time for yourself – and not being so anxious every single waking moment that something might happen to Alex! It’s obviously a very big change; it’s changed our relationship. We probably haven’t quite got the right balance yet. But she’s in good hands with you.
F&R: When Alex was born, you took two weeks’ paternity leave.
MB: I would’ve liked to be at home longer. New Zealand is great for a lot of things, but two weeks unpaid statutory leave is not really enough. We were fortunate that I could take that time off and it wouldn’t be a major hit financially. I know colleagues who took two days. They were contractors and they went straight back to work because that was their only means of income.
F&R: You work full time as a software engineer and there are a bunch of new dads in your team.
MB: There was definitely something in the water! There are quite a few new parents now, compared with when I started; new dads in particular, as I work in quite a male-dominated industry.
My team works pretty flexibly. We’re split between Wellington and Auckland. We do a lot of our work over email and video-conferencing, and can work collaboratively from anywhere because we use a lot of online tools. It’s easy for people to work flexibly and from home, and we’re supported to do that. It’s been helpful when we’ve had medical appointments with the baby, or I’ve just needed to be at home a bit more in these initial stages.
F&R: We’ve been living in New Zealand since 2015 and our parents are in the UK, so we’ve relied on technology to keep in touch – even more so since Alex was born. What’s that been like?
MB: Technology has helped a lot. Our family can connect with Alex and see her grow in a way that five or ten years ago they couldn’t have done. We’re sharing photos with her great-grandparents, even; they might struggle a bit with the tech, but they’re certainly connected.
I’d like to see sturdier infrastructure; faster connections and better fidelity in audio and video communication. At a previous job, we had this high-tech video conferencing system with audio-directionality as well as high quality audio and video. It made you feel like you were in the same room. Having that available commercially in the mainstream would be helpful for people like us living away from family. But what we have now certainly helps us to connect.
F&R: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to yourself five months ago, before Alex was born?
MB: Be comfortable not knowing everything. A lot of parenting is reactionary and you can only prepare for certain things, which is tough for me. I’d also say embrace the chaos. I like to be punctual – that is out the window! Now, if we’re 10 or 15 minutes late, that still counts as on time!
F&R: I’m glad to hear you’re thinking differently about what being on time means. That bodes well for me! Well, I think you’re doing a very good job of being a dad.
MB: It’s surprising, actually, how often someone speaks to me about being a dad when I’m out and about with Alex. When people see me, say, taking her around the supermarket, they’ll go out of their way to say something like ‘you’re such a good dad’.
F&R: What do you make of that?
MB: I like it, I’m not gonna lie! But at the same time, it’s concerning that it’s seen as unusual. A parent – father or mother – looking after their child is normal. And yet it gets noticed when I do it far more than when you do it. The only time I’ve seen you get comments are when you’re feeding Alex in public, you know? Yet I can do something as simple as take her around the supermarket and get congratulated for it. It’s expected that mums should be good at parenting, but the expectations are low for dads. Mums are held to a higher standard and that’s not right.
F&R: So what are your expectations of yourself?
MB: Oh, I have very low expectations of myself, too! No, I expect to be the person to look after Alex and keep her safe. I’m her Mr Miyagi.
F&R: I don’t know what that means.
MB: Come on, it’s Karate Kid! I teach her. “Wax on, wax off.”
F&R: What are your hopes for her?
MB: Pro golfer or pro tennis player! No, I want her to be herself and enjoy her life. And whatever that works out to be, I’ll be happy.