Justin Kemp

The Kemp family: Baby Noah, Justin and Jessica.

Pictured above: The Kemp family: Baby Noah, Justin and Jessica

As a new father, Professor Justin Kemp is delighted that an unexpected opportunity to become a stay-at-home dad for baby Noah has given him more time to bond with his son and to be able to respond to his needs.

"It's really nice to be able to read whether he's tired, whether he's hungry, whether he's just irritated and to deal with that straight away," Justin said.

Justin is ACU's National Head of the School of Exercise, and for the last six months he has taken parental leave part-time so that he can be Noah's primary carer for three days a week.

Justin says while being a stay-at-home dad was not his original plan, his family's needs changed when a rare career opportunity arose for his wife Jessica, who works as an occupational therapist.

"Our plan when Noah came along was that Jess would be on maternity leave full-time for 12 months, unless her dream job came up at this one particular hospital," Justin said.

This much-coveted position had not become available during the previous five years of watching and waiting. However, the winds of fortune changed three months after Noah was born.

"Her dream job did come up. So I said to Jess, 'look you have to go for this'. The job was also at a hospital that is a ten minute drive from our home, which is a lot better than the two to two and a half hour commute my wife had been doing to work," Justin said.

Good fortune and good support

When Jessica decided to apply for the job, Justin ensured he informed his supervisor Professor Michelle Campbell as early possible about the family's new hopes and plans.

"From day one, even before Jess' application was successful, Michelle was completely supportive of our plans, and my family's changing needs," Justin said.

"Because of ACU's parental leave provisions, I was able to take on the primary carer role so that Jess could take up the position."

Over the next four weeks, Justin worked with his supervisor to create a part-time parental leave arrangement (working two days per week until Noah turns one) and organised handing over parts of his role to Acting National Head of School, Dr Christian Lorenzen.

"Staff have been very supportive," Justin said.

"This all happened very quickly. Christian stepped into the role at fairly short notice, and he's done a fantastic job. The fact that he was willing to do that made it possible as well."

Despite the challenge of ensuring a smooth work handover in a condensed time frame, Justin says he has enjoyed taking on primary carer responsibilities, and he has even swapped places with his wife, having semi-regular catch-ups with friends from the local mother's group.

Justin says the response he gets from people about his new role is very positive, and he particularly enjoys taking Noah out for walks in the pram.

"I think kids really like being outside. I'm pushing him down the street and he's giggling away at the things he's seeing," Justin said.

"Noah is 10 months old and it's nice that now he knows me as one of the two parents that's around a lot looking after him, as opposed to someone he sees at the end of the day for an hour before bedtime. I think that will have a lot of benefits when I go back to work full-time, that we've had the time to connect at that level."

As a National Head of School, Justin has previously assisted a number of his staff in accessing parental leave, and he says the key to making smooth transitions at work is for staff to give supervisors as much advance notice as they can.

"I've probably had more than 10 staff over the last three or four years who have taken up parental leave, both mothers and fathers. It's really important to have plenty of input from the staff member in terms of their ideas of how the transition can work best for the school, and for them as well. Keeping the staff member involved in decision-making around the handover, and also the return to work, is critical."

Justin says ACU's family-friendly environment is just one of the things that has kept him happy to be working at the University for the last 19 years.

"It's been pretty interesting over the last five years in terms of change at ACU," Justin said.

"I think change in the tertiary education sector, more broadly, has made life at a university challenging, but in a positive way. There has been a lot happening and ACU has been a very supportive environment to be in."

The School of Exercise Science has also moved into the new Daniel Mannix building on ACU's Melbourne Campus in recent years. Justin says he really enjoys the natural light and space in the eco-friendly building, which was awarded the maximum 6-star Green rating in 2012 by the Green Building Council of Australia.

"This building has a really good vibe. It's a good design and as soon as you come out of your office door, you're always coming across someone - PhD students or colleagues - it has a very communal feel."

"ACU is a nice place to work, and I think with progressive provisions such as the parental leave, ACU attracts good staff to work here, because people know it's a supportive environment."