By Debbie Yong
They call themselves the Secret Men's Business (SMB) group.
On their agenda are golf games and weekday pub gatherings.
They have time on their hands - they do not work.
The men are all 'trailing spouses' or husbands who moved to Singapore when their wives - mostly executives in industries ranging from finance to property to advertising - were posted here by their companies.
Started as a regular lunch group by five expatriate, stay-at-home fathers seven years ago, the SMB has since expanded into an active e-mail network of more than 80 men.
Its members, aged from the late 20s to early 60s, are mostly from Australia, New Zealand and Britain.
More than half of them have children and a quarter of this group are fathers to young kids.
Among them is Australian Duncan Paul, SMB's mailing list coordinator. His schedule now revolves around shuttling his four-year-old son Alasdair between home, school and the swimming pool for lessons.
The 41-year-old gave up his construction business - which had an annual profit of $200,000 - in Sydney 19 months ago to move here with his investment banker-wife Kate.
In the pockets of time between minding his son, he is currently applying for a permit to set up a wine import business.
He also organises the SMB lunch at Harry's Bar at Boat Quay on the third Wednesday of each month. About 15 to 25 people show up each time.
A core group of about eight also meet for weekly golf and take the occasional golfing trip to Malaysia or Indonesia - without the wife and children.
He said his group is hardly a touchy-feely bunch as many of them employ housekeepers and nannies. 'We don't talk about breastfeeding or anything like that,' he said with a laugh.
'We talk about the kids but also about sports and where the best restaurants and hawker centres are,' he noted, constantly referring to other group members as the 'boys', 'lads' and 'blokes'.
None of them, however, was willing to be interviewed by The Sunday Times.
Is there a stigma attached to being a 'house husband'? Mr Paul admits that he initially 'felt embarassed' about not contributing to the household income, but only in the initial six months.
'Finding other men out there like me helped. Soon, you realise that you're having a great time with your children and they grow up so quickly, so you lap it up while you can,' he said.
Then, with a laugh, he added: 'All my friends in Australia think we've won the lottery. They ask where we find these women.'
Elsewhere in Singapore, the number of men staying home to cook, clean and mind the children has grown by nearly seven times, from 323 to 2,151 between 2000 and 2005.
This is according to the latest available Population Census and the General Household Survey.
One of these men is Mr Yap Vong Hin, 50, a former architect who used to earn $6,000 a month.
He now looks after his three children aged between seven and nine so that his wife, an infectious disease specialist, can continue to 'be effective at what she loves and is good at'.
'I will have a hard time going back to work when the kids don't need me anymore,' said the house husband of four years.
'This is the best job I've ever had.'
This article was first published in The Sunday Times on Jun 15, 2008
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