The coronavirus pandemic has affected thousands of families across Turkey since it first emerged in March 2020. Fathers lost their children, children lost their fathers. For those who staved off the deadly disease, Father's Day now has a new meaning.
It has turned life upside down for many, but it appears to have strengthened the relationship between fathers and their children. For health care workers, it is a different story altogether. Seeking to protect others, fathers working at hospitals amid the pandemic can barely touch their children for fear of infection. Some say it has been months since they have spent time with their children.
A positive side of the pandemic, so to speak, was being confined to home. Working from home due to extraordinary circumstances brought new opportunities for fathers who used to have little time to spend with their children because of long work hours.
"I have spent time with my family during the pandemic,” said Hikmet Yalçınkaya, a 32-year-old editor who has been working remotely for about a year and a half. "Since I work from home, the time I can spend with my children has increased a lot and we try to benefit from this situation as much as possible.” Yalçınkaya believes the time has positively affected his family relationship in general. "I can easily say that the sharing of housework has increased and we can spend more time with each other.” The father of two said he noticed the time he spent on social media. "Then, I tried to control this time. This allowed me to spend more time with my children. When I compare the day we first started working from home with today, I think that the communication between us has improved a lot and strengthened our relationship.”
Sales and marketing specialist Mustafa Kaya has been working at home for 15 months because of the virus. The 37-year-old father of two said his family has not left home if it was not necessary. "We spent time at home playing hide and seek and sculpting with play dough.” He noted that he spent one to two hours playing with his children before the pandemic but the time has now doubled. The pandemic benefited housewives but was tiring for working fathers both physically and psychologically, he said. "Children with endless energy got to spend a lot of time with their father, the communication between us has become very good, but I cannot say that it is easy for the father. During the pandemic, we have become active playmates,” he added. He said he had the opportunity to see how tired mothers become and could empathize more accurately. "Seeing how patient they are with children, I also forced myself to be more tolerant toward them.” He noted that this time allowed him to understand how being an active playmate rather than a spectator in parks can contribute to children's development. Kaya said the bonds between him and his children have become stronger. "The feeling of witnessing what they learn and seeing them do something new every day was magnificent, such as their first crawl or first steps,” he said. "It is very enjoyable to learn to experience such firsts by witnessing them in person, rather than via a phone call at the office.”
Mustafa Cengiz said he was mainly caring for his family because he worked mostly at home. Cengiz, 38, said he generally spent time sharing housework with his wife, including gardening. "I tried to support my wife in every way when I was at home. We divided up tasks, and I did my duties to lessen what falls upon my wife's shoulders,” said Cengiz. He also emphasized the importance of spending time with his two children during that time. "The pandemic has been a really good opportunity for me to allocate more of my time for my family, to get to know them much better and to turn this difficult period into something that all of us benefited from,” he said. "I feel that the bond between me and my children has strengthened so much in the last year. Spending quality time, playing games and even just talking with them for hours were the things that I enjoyed most.” His advice to fathers: "First of all, you have to support your wife, do your daily chores, and ease the weight on her. Doing so helps you spend more time with your children,” said Cengiz. "If my family smiles, I become the happiest father on Earth.”
Ömür Gökalp was mainly at home, working and spending time with his family during the outbreak. "At first, it was really difficult for me to adapt to life at home. Later on, I started to like it more than I expected,” the 35-year-old said, noting that if it was not for the pandemic, his family would not have had the opportunity to notice they are healthy and together, and appreciate it all. "The pandemic helped us learn to live happily together,” he said. "I wasn't aware of how tired my wife gets when she was trying to deal with everything all by herself. But, now I know that I will always stand by her and help her in every matter that I can from now on. Sharing housework will also help me and my wife to make more time for our child. So, as a father, I'm really happy that I stayed at home and strengthened my relationship with both my wife and my son.” He also had suggestions for other fathers: "That home is yours, and if you make proper investments into your home life, you will eventually start to feel like you are becoming a better person. Before the epidemic, all that mattered for me was how much money I earned to meet our needs, but this process made me realize that all that really matters is my family, and family alone,” added Gökalp.
"Family" is what health care workers long for most, along with a desire to shed the masks they are required to constantly wear while working long shifts at hospitals and clinics. Even a simple hug is a dream for fathers working in the health care sector nowadays. Mehmet Temiz, an emergency room nurse at Ankara City Hospital in the capital, is in his 10th month spent apart from his two sons, aged 2 and 11. His wife is also a nurse, meaning that the couple had no one to look after their children while they were confined to the hospital during shifts. They even had to stay away from them after work so as not to infect them. So, they sent them away to their parents living in another city. "I can only talk to them on the phone. Last Father's Day, I had only a 10-minute video call with them," he said. "We are separate again and we are looking forward to reuniting. Every time we talk, they tell me how much they miss me. We want to go back to our normal lives and be together again. This seems possible if the pandemic ends, and for the pandemic to end we need mass immunity. So, everyone needs to get vaccinated so we can be reunited with our children," he said. Associate professor Ahmet Omma, who works at the same hospital, is luckier as his children are with him in the city. Yet, his plight is not much different. Omma, a father of two daughters and married to another doctor, yearns for the "family time" he enjoyed before the pandemic started. "We missed their birthdays, we have been away for a long time," Omma said. Worse still, the entire family was infected with the coronavirus. "We were in the same house, but everyone was confined to one room and could not see each other while we were in self-isolation," he recounted. Omma is not working in the COVID-19 ward and is able to spend Father's Day with his children, although he laments that he was not with his children when they needed him. A drop in the pandemic cases has enabled him to go home every weekend for the past month.
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