Cristiano Ronaldo has claimed Manchester United officials “didn’t believe” him when he needed to take time off because his baby daughter was unwell.
The footballer has opened up about life at the football club in an explosive interview with Piers Morgan, in which he also criticised the club’s football manager Erik ten Hag and accused the club of “betraying” him.
And while the timing and nature of the interview hasn’t gone down well with everyone, his comments about receiving a lack of empathy over his daughter’s illness has struck a chord with some – particularly dads.
It’s raised the question of how and why in 2022 fathers are still being made to feel bad for taking time out to care for their kids.
Ronaldo suffered a huge loss earlier this year when his son died during childbirth. His twin sister Bella survived, however when she was hospitalised with an illness, the father-of-five needed to take time out and implied in an interview with Piers Morgan on TalkTV that some at the football club were less than sympathetic about it.
“I spoke with the director of, and the president of, Manchester United and they kind of didn’t believe that something [was] going wrong, which made me feel bad,” he said.
“I am never going to change the [prioritising of the] health of my family for football… and it was something that really hurt me because they doubted my word that I struggled, especially Bella and Geo.
“We had one week in hospital because Bella had a big problem and I didn’t go to the pre-season because of that.”
Manchester United said “the club will consider its response after the full facts have been established” and told HuffPost UK that at this time, it has no further comment.
While it’s clear there’s a lot more to unpack between Ronaldo and Manchester United, the interview has prompted conversations about the way dads are treated by employers – and the need for change.
“There’s certainly a lack of sympathy when it comes to dads whereby the world of children is not really their world,” writes journalist Martin Robinson for The Book of Man.
“If something demands time out for men, that’s not really on,” he said in response to the Ronaldo interview, citing the fact two weeks paternal leave is still the standard for dads in the UK – which is barely anything when you think of what a huge life event the birth of a child is.
There are clearly still incidences where men are expected to continue working, keeping a stiff upper lip, while women care for their children at home. And that reeks of sexism.
The lack of sympathy from employers is an issue that’s cropped up when Nigel Clarke has spoken to dads through the support group he runs called Dadvengers.
When a child is ill or you’ve got a situation where a father needs to take time off work to care for their child, Clarke suggests some organisations automatically focus on it being a “childcare issue” rather than thinking about the fact the dad must actually be really worried about their child.
“They make an assumption it’s a childcare issue and why should the father be taking time from work to deal with that? which in itself is wrong,” he says.
He suggests it’s largely a generational thing, with older generations thinking this way much more than younger men – so some organisations are a lot more forward-thinking than others.
“Organisations, businesses and communities in general need to appreciate that the way we parent as families is changing,” he continues.
“Before it was maybe more about women taking care of their children, but nowadays it’s going to be much more shared.
“We have to acknowledge the landscape is changing – and as workplaces, as communities and people in general, we need to make changes.”
It can be immensely stressful when you need to be with your child because they’re sick and your employer is not supportive.
Steve*, 51, from Northumberland, knows this all too well. He says a former employer withdrew a promise of flexible work which, as a solo parent, caused him a lot of stress.
“They argued that I specifically wasn’t allowed to be at home with my daughter when she was off school because I was a single dad so I would be child-caring, not working,” he tells HuffPost UK.
The dad, who works in communications, believes that while what Ronaldo has said about his football club was “ill-advised”, he can see where he’s coming from as the pandemic has caused a lot of undue stress on society – and then there’s obviously the hugely traumatic ordeal of losing his child.
“We don’t think clearly when we’re depressed, sad and stressed. We don’t have enough mental capacity to concentrate on everything,” he explains.
“You can’t compartmentalise work and personal issues. It’s possible and reasonable to say that while what Ronaldo said was ill-advised, it was also understandable.”
The first part of Ronaldo’s interview will air on TalkTV on Wednesday November 16 at 8pm.
*Surname removed to provide anonymity.