Double Duty Dads
Working Fathers Seeking Elusive Career-Family Balance
By Scott Behson
• Frank’s wife, an environmental scientist, is at a conference. This week, he’s a solo dad — he has to leave work a little before 3 p.m. to pick his daughter up from preschool and rush to get home in time to meet his son’s school bus. Homework, meals, baths and bedtime are totally on him. After the kids are asleep, he’s back at his computer for a few more hours of work.
• Now that their daughter is in elementary school, Liam’s wife went back to work full-time. He’d been downsized a few months before, but found a contract IT job in which he can work from home. After years of being the full-time provider with a stay-at-home wife, Liam is adjusting to working from home and taking on half of the household and child-care duties. Some days he wonders if his family will ever figure out a new balance that works for everyone.
• For three years, Scott’s wife, an actress, worked evenings and weekends on a long-running, off-Broadway show. She’s generally home during the day, but today she has a voice lesson and an audition; so after Scott teaches his class and sits through most of a department meeting, he has to leave his office early to get home for his son’s bus. He’ll make up the work on the laptop tonight. Evenings and weekends have been on Scott for the past few years, but today, he also has the daytime/dinner shift. He’s a loving dad, but some weeks really take a lot out of him.
Do any of these dads seem familiar? The first two are my friends. And, yes, the last one is me.
Virtually every working dad struggles with balancing the time and effort required to be a good financial provider with the time and effort needed to be a present, involved, loving father. Society, however, doesn’t generally support the work-family balance required of fatherhood today, and most employers are indifferent at best (and hostile at worst) to male employees’ family concerns. As a result, working dads’ struggles are rarely addressed.
Family vs. Work
This generation of fathers works as hard and for as many hours as any generation before. They face at least as many financial pressures and a world with less job and financial security than dads who have come before. Even with the rise of dual-income couples, which now represent 60 percent of U.S. households, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center Study, fathers are the sole or primary providers for 85 percent of dual-parent households.
These fathers also aspire to career success. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed in “The New Dads” study, conducted by Boston College’s Center on Work and Family, wish to be promoted to positions of greater responsibility, and 58 percent want to move into senior management.
Because fathers’ struggles are not commonly discussed, companies have not had to confront their male employees’ work-family concerns. In fact, research from the University of California Hastings College of the Law shows that men who adjust their work for family are often seen as insufficiently committed to their work and “unmanly,” facing stigma and career consequences. Men are expected to be “all in” for work, even when they are involved at home. As a result, many dads face a family vs. work conundrum or resort to hidden, informal ways to buy time and flexibility at work.
In addition, compared to fathers of a generation ago, today’s dad has tripled the time he spends caring for his children and does twice the housework. Sixty-five percent of dads see their role as both provider and caretaker, according to Pew; and 85 percent in the Boston College study aspire to fully sharing parenting with their spouses (although only 30 percent report they live up to that standard).
Dads of prior generations could be more focused on their careers and providing for the family, knowing they had wives at home who would take care of the rest. In today’s era of dual-career couples and egalitarian relationships (not to mention single-parent families), the strict division of labor has eroded, and fathers are increasingly focused both on earning and on parenting.
Today’s working fathers face complicated expectations. The vast majority are still relied on to be the primary earners, but we also support our spouses’ careers.
Some people see us as “superdads” when we are simply doing ordinary, everyday things — like food shopping or walking our kids to the bus stop. Some think we’re slackers when we don’t do exactly 50 percent of household tasks, or if we don’t parent the way moms do.
Some people think it’s cute when we’re “babysitting” our kids at the playground; others eye us suspiciously when we do. Dads are generally not welcome at Mommy Groups. When we need to change a diaper, most men’s bathrooms still don’t have diaper-changing stations (I wish I could erase the memories I have of changing my son’s diaper on those gross gas station bathroom floors!).
Some see us as unmanly if we put family time ahead of career; others see us as neglectful parents when work has to come first. It’s all very fluid, shifting and confusing.
So, dads are working as hard as ever at their jobs to be good providers and have really upped their game as fathers and caregivers. Yet, the issue they struggle with the most — maintaining career success while also being far more involved in the lives of their children — has received scant attention.
This must change because when more attention is paid to men’s work-family concerns:
• These issues will become more normal and acceptable to talk about in homes and workplaces across the country;
• Fathers who struggle with work-family balance will realize they are not alone and will be more willing to reach out for help and to connect with fellow dads;
• Supervisors and business leaders will realize this is a serious business issue that requires thought and attention; and
• Fathers, mothers, kids, families, society and even employers will benefit.
Turning the Tide
We still have a long way to go, but, for the first time, the tide is beginning to turn, and dads’ work-family issues are starting to gain traction.
We have seen several recent high-profile public examples of dads prioritizing family over work. Professional golfer Hunter Mahan left a $1-million tournament he was leading when his wife unexpectedly went into early labor. Dozens of Major League Baseball (MLB) players make use of MLB’s paternity-leave policy. Several National Football League football players stated they’d miss games to be at the birth of their children. Even Prince William took paternity leave from the Royal Air Force when the royal baby was born.
Pioneering companies, including Yahoo, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Bank of America, offer generous paid parental leave to new dads. Deloitte and other leading companies support dads with informational resources and parenting groups. Many companies are paying much more attention to men’s issues in their diversity and work-life programs, even if they haven’t yet fully articulated robust policies for dads.
These companies understand that a balanced approach to employee management and workplace flexibility are important ways to attract and retain talent while avoiding the performance declines associated with chronic overwork. True, there is still a lot of “old-school” management out there, but the employee-oriented approach to management is now the norm, and business leaders who take a long-term view are seeing reductions in employee turnover, increased motivation and improved performance.
In terms of public policy, three states — California, Rhode Island and New Jersey — provide for paid parental leave for both men and women. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act proposed in the U.S. Senate would apply this model nationwide. There is a long way to go, but change has a way of occurring very slowly until a tipping point is reached.
When working fathers have support, families are stronger. Work-family balance is not just a woman’s issue. It’s not even a man’s issue. It’s an issue that affects us all — moms, dads, kids, families, society and businesses. It’s time we all got on board and started addressing it.
About the Author
Scott Behson, professor of management at FDU’s Silberman College of Business, writes and advocates for working dads on his blog, Fathers, Work and Family, and has written for the Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, Time, The Huffington Post and the Good Men Project. His new book is called, The Working Dad’s Survival Guide. He has made several media appearances, including on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” “Radio Times,” “CBS This Morning” and MSNBC, and worked privately with companies on work-life balance issues.
Ed. note: A version of this article first appeared in the Summer/Fall 2014 edition of FDU Magazine.