Every Day is Father's Day

Being a parent is the most beautiful job in the world.

Vladimir Banić
Aca sa bebom Milutinom.
UNICEF Srbija/2020/Pančić
20 June 2020

Novi Sad, Belgrade - In their family apartment, on the top floor of a residential building in Novi Sad, Serbia, architect Aca Stojanovic recalls how he questioned his own structural stability when his son Milutin was born. 

When Milutin was born, it was something new, something unknown,” Aca says with a smile. “As a man, I’ve never had contact with a small baby, never took care of one. We relaxed after the visiting nurse’s first home visit. We realized that this isn’t something to be scared of. Now, six months later, I do everything! I bathe the baby, I feed him, change him. Everything!” 

Aca feeding Milutin.
©UNICEF Srbija/2020/Pančić

In Serbia, visiting nurses visit the family once during pregnancy, five times after the birth of a child, twice during the first year of life, once in the second and once in the fourth year. And if there are challenges and difficulties, they can also come for additional visits. Lenka Tadin Stojanovic, Milutin's mom and Aca’s wife, recalls the first meeting with Danijela Pokrajac, their visiting nurse. She also remembers that the nurse said at that first meeting that she would come more often if necessary, and that she was always available by phone, which boosted Lenka’s confidence.

“The visiting nurse advised us to talk to Milutin about everything we’re doing with him. When dressing him, to explain ‘first one arm now, then the other’. We simply talked about our activities and then we also started paying attention and listening to him. Now we can even communicate, still not verbally, but we always know exactly what he's telling us. When he's hungry or sleepy.”, explains Lenka Tadin Stojanovic.

Being a parent is the most beautiful job in the world.

In Serbia, fathers can take parental  to take care of their baby. However, the number of fathers actually doing that is still low. In fact, only 30% of fathers are actively involved in caring for their baby.

Aca and Lenka agree that time stops when you’re with your child, and tiredness disappears. Milutin's dad also likes to observe how quickly his son is learning through play.

Aca and baby Milutin
©UNICEF Srbija/2020/Pančić

“You can see the progress - at first, he was barely able to reach or hold objects, but then he reached for them, moved towards them. Then he was transferring objects between hands, and it was easier for him with each new day. This all happens through playing with the baby,” explains Milutin's dad, Aca.

The right to play is the right of every child. Not only is this fun for children, but it also satisfies their huge hunger for knowledge. Millions of brain cells and connections in the brain are established every second during the first few months of a baby's life, a pace never repeated again. Lenka, Milutin's mom, knows this and that’s why both Aca and she try to do everything through play.

Lenka, Milutin and Aca play even with an ordinary plastic cup.
©UNICEF Srbija/2020/Pančić

“Everything we do, we do through play. I don’t even know how I would do it any other way. When we dress him, when we bathe him, we always sing, we always play. It’s the best way for him to learn. Every day he keeps amazing me by learning new things. His motor skills are developing. We aren't aware of the things we do through play, we just suddenly see his progress,” Lenka believes.

In times of crises, such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic, many families are under stress. However, playing with children, learning together and setting routines can help both parents and children cope. Milutin's dad Aca says that he has developed a new relationship with his son, because he had more time to spend at home.

During the coronavirus pandemic, I spent more time at home, and I was able to start feeding Milutin. I liked that, so Im still doing it today. I feed him at least one meal,” says Aca.

Lenka Tadin Stojanovic, Milutin's mom, says that she is proud when she sees that Aca knows that's it’s time for Milutin to eat or when he knows how to prepare meals. She also says that her partner's support means a lot to her in different ways - not only so she can catch her breath, but also emotionally. She says it's clear their son is happy because there are two people taking care of him.

Visiting nurse Danijela Pokrajac with Milutin, Lenka and Aca
©UNICEF Srbija/2020/Pančić

The visiting nurse who visits this family, Danijela Pokrajac, says that a strong parental union and a father's involvement in caring for a child from birth are crucial. Children who grow up in such an environment can develop at a faster rate, have greater confidence, feel that they are loved and cared for, and later in life can be more successful and go on to build quality relationships with others.

Both parents share an equal responsibility for the upbringing of their child, but they also share the joy,” says Danijela.

UNICEF and the LEGO Foundation are working together to help parents and guardians use the power of play to give children the best start in life. There are emerging studies that indicate a correlation between a high-quality early childhood and greater success in the cognitive sphere; but benefits also extend to future health outcomes. Play is a good way to acquire skills, as well as to develop curiosity, cooperation and creativity. Fathers don’t have to wait for Father’s Day to practice playful parenting, because every day is Father’s Day.