On Being a Working Father

Last year, some colleagues and friends pitched in their advice for new mothers, who work inside and outside the home. While I'm clearly a woman's woman, I often wonder about the below-the-surface parenting perspectives of men. I'm close to many who put active effort into balancing their own work-life equations to support the two roles they care most deeply about: professional man and family man. 

I love seeing people in this multi-dimensional light, and I remember a situation a couple years ago where I started liking one of my colleagues so much more when he made a frustrated remark about our company's paternity policy. His comment was something to the effect of "Of course, we don't have paternity leave." I had no idea that he was the kind of guy who would care about such a thing, and it changed my perception of him - and frankly, my desire to work with him. Shame on me and my unconscious bias.

I've since learned that this colleague isn't alone. According to a study by Boston College, 89% percent of American men want to take off when their child is born, but almost the same number won't consider doing so unless it's paid leave (despite the growing number of households where women are the primary breadwinner). If you're American, you know where this is going. Only 9% of our companies have said paid paternity leave. While in 70 other countries around the world, paid leave for fathers is mandated by law.

However, it goes deeper than paid versus unpaid leave. The New Millennial Dad... highlights that men of this generation (currently aged 18-36) have a shifting view of their roles as professional + father: 67% desire to be an "equal" parent.

Phew.

So in honor of Father's Day, which is celebrated this Sunday in the US and UK, I asked professional and personal friends to share their experience and advice for working fathers. For me, this suggests what companies of the future should be considering in our benefits, advice to new dads, and how I as a woman can be more empathetic to men's desire to balance it all too.

 

In fact, several of them said things like, "This is a topic that doesn't get much coverage, but it should." 

Here's what these American working fathers said...

 

On US Paternity Leave:

My company does not have a paternity leave policy that I like. We can take off but it would be unpaid [unless I live in one of three states that has a paternity leave policy]. For this reason, I only took one week off when my daughter was born and used my own vacation time in order to be paid 100%.

 

Paternity leave - why do we allow this to be a luxury or nice to have instead of a must? I worked for a major fortune 500 when we had our first. There was no paternity policy, and I had to use vacation time.

 

I just talked to a guy that had worked for me and is now at a different company. He shared that his new company has a paternity policy - 2 weeks off. But he asked for my advice about whether he should actually use it. The only way he agreed is another exec in the company just used it, so he felt okay about it. So even when it's a policy, it's still not completely socially acceptable or at least perceived that way.

 

I know I am privileged and had both of my kids at a stage when I was in a executive level position. But what about the blue collar worker or hourly employee? Even if they can take time off, can they afford to? Is it fair that they can't? Mom and dad are important all the time, but those first few weeks are hard.

 

On Life as a Working Dad:

I am still a very ambitious person when it comes to my career, so there are times it is tough. Perception is a big deal and being 'the guy that leaves at 5 everyday' is something I think about. I do worry about how it might impact my ability to move up and continue to grow my career. If my company or management began micro-managing my time, or if I started to see other people who were as qualified as me moving ahead, I'd have to ask myself about the type of corporate culture I want to be a part of. But so far, I'm optimistic that the people in my department's leadership are supportive of me and understand that having children does impact your overall time in the office.

 

There is 0 balance at the beginning, you can’t do it all.

 

I feel a bit guilty about the first 10 years of parenting. I was so scared about surviving and being able to pay for things that I worked way too many hours, and in many ways my job was really primary. Once the fear of being homeless with a family waned, I started to spend more time with them and make them a priority.. Coaching tee ball, going to every softball game I could for my daughter. Spending time with them and watching them grow is the most joy that I experience.  I wish I had spent more time with them when they were younger, but I'm doing the best that I can to be with them now.

 

My work-life balance has definitely has changed post-baby. My priorities have changed and being a family where both parents work in demanding jobs, it is difficult to make sure we are getting enough time with our child... let alone exercise and making sure that we're taking care of ourselves and each other.

 

We are not babysitters, we are fathers. I spend time with my kids because I love them and they are my children and I am as much responsible for them as mom. We just happen to be blessed enough that we could decide for mom to stay home. But it could easily be the other way and is often - where dad stays home and mom works. There is a real generation gap with this concept.

 

On Advice & Rewards

The best advice I ever got was from a business partner: 'If you don’t take time to take care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of the people you care about.'

 

There is no right way to do anything. You have to decide how you can support your family, feel fulfilled, be the dad you want to be, and not have regrets about it. For me, this meant accepting a job offer that was lucrative and gave me flexibility that would really benefit my family. I ultimately chose this over something I thought would be more meaningful for me personally - but wouldn't have the same financial and schedule perks that my family needs right now. But these questions and answers are going to differ for every single dad.

 

Your kids will pick up your worst and your best characteristics, and they will make you want to be a better person because watching your own flaws in a five year old is tough.

 

I am so happy more dads are making the choice to be a dad and not a babysitter. Our kids will be better for it.

 

Thank you to my friends, who had these important conversations with me. I too am encouraged that dads are choosing to be dads (not babysitters) these days - both when they're at home and at work.

 

Since I'm in Paris and London this week, the European way of life and working is on my mind... I'd love to hear: if your country's social policies are much more liberal, does the American system baffle you?

 

Photo from Be OK

Posted on June 15, 2017 and filed under Family Life.