UAE: Meet the part-time influencers, full-time dads

On Father's Day, influencers talk about social pressures they encounter and the challenges of bringing up their children in the age of social media



Image used for illustrative purpose.
Image used for illustrative purpose.
by

Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Tue 21 Jun 2022, 12:15 AM

Last updated: Tue 21 Jun 2022, 10:11 AM

From normalising blended families to getting on TikTok to bond with their teenagers, dads are breaking gender norms to rewrite social conventions through their social media channels.

This Father’s Day, Nasreen Abdulla combed the length and breadth of social media to find dad influencers. She spoke to some of the most prominent influencers and asked them all about being a content creator, social pressures they encounter and the challenges of bringing up their children in the age of social media.

Arjun Doney and family. — Supplied photo
Arjun Doney and family. — Supplied photo

The Accidental Influencer (@arjundoney)

For fitness enthusiast Arjun Doney, the Covid-19 lockdown was a chance to experiment with something he always wanted to do — create fitness videos. He made his first video and sent it to some friends.

“They all unanimously said it was the most terrible thing they have ever seen,” he chuckled. “So I knew I needed to work on my editing skills and video transitions.

“So one day after the kids were asleep, my wife Tara and I did a funny horror video. It was just for me to practice but when my family and friends saw it, they loved it. So I posted it on social media. It was an instant hit. That is how we became a content creator family.”

Arjun and his wife Tara Susan George have two children — five-year-old Sarah, and Maria, who is three. “There is no doubt that Sarah is the most popular among us,” said Arjun. “Each of us has a part of play. Tara and I discuss a lot of ideas. Out of the 20-30 ideas we discuss, only one makes it to the gram. I am the scriptwriter. I like to observe things and write it into script. That is the part I enjoy the most.”

Arjun admits that social media is a double-edged sword. “A lot of people message us and say ‘oh I wish I had a perfect family like you’. What people don’t realise is that social media only shows the good. We are like any other family with our own share of disagreements and disputes. It is not like we live a picture perfect life and to me that is the biggest danger of social media — the false narrative that it can propel.

“For me fatherhood has been the biggest blessing. It taught me unconditional love and suddenly everything else became secondary. One of the reasons I become a content creator is because I was really enjoying the time it was giving me with the girls. For now, my main objective is to raise them to be good human beings and teach them good principles.

Akif Sabeh. — Supplied photo
Akif Sabeh. — Supplied photo

Normalising blended families (@akifelsabeh)

Software engineer Akif Sabeh had never posted a single video to social media. However, one day during the initial days of the Covid-19 lockdown, his wife requested to do a fun dance video with him and he decided to humour her.

“It felt a bit weird for me but my wife convinced me to,” said Akif. “After posting it online, it went viral and reached a million people within one day. It was something about being in the right time at the right place. It was the lockdown and everyone worldwide was on their phone. Ever since, I have developed a love for creating content with my family.”

Akif has since quit his job and become a full-time content creator. According to him, the biggest achievement due to social media is normalising an often taboo topic - a blended family.

For Akif’s wife Sara Karrit, it is her second marriage and together they have a blended family.

“We show the world that it’s ok to be divorced and remarried,” said Akif. “We should never get the kids involved because it has nothing to do with them. Whatever happens between adults should now reflect on the kids.”

Akif admits that not everyone is open minded. “We get the a hate comment every now and then but that is something you have to cope with as a content creator.”

As a father, Akif wants to set an example to his children. “Content creation has given me the opportunity to show them what it is like to do what you love for a living,” he said.

Simon Hayhurst with daughter Ada Grace
Simon Hayhurst with daughter Ada Grace

The Disaster Dad (@disasterswithdad)

What started as a joke soon turned into a passion for British national Simon Hayhurst, first time dad to Ada Grace.

“I was just joking about the number of mommy influencers and that sort of turned into a running joke before becoming my Instagram handle. I knew that my antics as a first time dad would definitely bring comic relief to a lot of dads stuck at home during the pandemic,” Hayhurst said.

For the Brit, the page was also a great way to stay connected with extended family. “No one met her in the first eight months. So the Instagram page showed my family what she was doing. It was like a big Whatsapp group. Also, I think there is a niche in the market as a dad blogger. There are so few of them. It may have to do with the stigma surrounding a stay-at-home or hands-on dad. It is high time we change that”

Hayhurst admits that he is very lucky to be self-employed as a commodities trader. “I look after Ada from 8am to 12pm, when my wife, a teacher, returns from work. We work as a good team. I have realised that dads who work from 9-5 often miss out on so much of their kids’ development.

“I can see so much of my personality in her and the only reason I get to see that is because I get to spend a lot of time with her. I am really blessed that way.”

Abbas Ali Shah and family. — Supplied photo
Abbas Ali Shah and family. — Supplied photo

Bonding With the Kids(@guddu_and_papa)

For flight purser Abbas Ali Shah, the years before Covid were some of the busiest. He was flying at least 100 hours a month and barely had any time to spend with his wife Sara and his children. When the lockdown happened he realised that although he was close to his teenage son there was something missing.

“I wanted to bond with my son,” he said. “And that’s when I hit upon the idea of making TikTok videos with him and my family. Initially it was a challenge, as I am a perfectionist and insisted on taking every shot a second time, But as time went by, I started to trust everyone else to do their part. There were no more fights and we started getting better at our videos,” Shah said.

The bond between Abbas and his 16-year-old son, Affaan, started improving. “We developed a deep friendship. He started asking me about my flights and we started having a lot of heart-to-heart discussions. Even my 12-year-old daughter, Laraiba, has become more confident and is exceeding our expectations in every video.”

According to Abbas, the biggest negative about social media is that it is an open book. “Anyone can see it and anyone can leave any kind of comment on it. Even so, I would recommend such an approach to every parent to bond with their children. I love what I share with them right now.”

Mustafa Hassane and family. — Supplied photo
Mustafa Hassane and family. — Supplied photo

The Stay At Home Dad Turned Teacher (@arabbabathatsme)

For Egyptian national Mustafa Hassane, a move to Dubai as part of his wife Brittany‘s job brought with it some interesting changes in his life. “When we moved to Dubai, we decided together that I will stay home. For four years I was a stay at home dad.” he said.

That is when Hassane decided to start an Instagram page to document the educational activities he did with his daughters Saffiya and Mackenzie, and he faced the negativity of social media first hand.

“It wasn’t easy for me. In the Arab culture, people don’t accept a stay-at-home dad. I often got comments that I should be a man. But it didn’t bother me. I was raising my kids and I loved being with them. I enjoyed watching them grow. My wife was often jealous of me. I would say it was the best time of my life. However, I am sure not one mom influencer ever gets asked why she doesn’t work and chooses to stay home,” Hassane said.

For the 42-year-old the whole stay-at-home experience was a life changer. “Earlier, I had no patience. That is why even though I was trained as a teacher, I didn’t end up teaching. However, my girls taught me patience and it was a very valuable lesson. I am really lucky to have my family.”

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Hassane is now working as an Arabic teacher at GEMS Royal Dubai in Mirdiff, and said: “I miss my days of being at home. However, I enjoy being with my students, too. I try to be their friend more than their teacher. They all love to laugh and joke with me.”

Hassane’s elder daughter Saffiya is now 13. “She is a teenager and I think I have taught her to use social media responsibly. My younger one is just eight, so there’s still some time to go before she starts using it,” he said.


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