Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dad Can Balance Work & Family, Too

A few years ago, while I was discussing fathering issues on a national TV talk show, the self-described “Gen-X” host called on a teen girl and her dad in the audience. The host asked the girl, “What’s your biggest issue with your dad right now?”

“When I was little, it seemed like we were best buddies,” she replied. “Now he works so much that I hardly get to see him. I want to spend more time with him.”

“Dad,” the host asked the father, “how do you respond to that?”

“Well, the demands of the job seem to be tougher and tougher each year,” he said. “It’s just hard to find time with her.”

The host interrupted the father and asked incredulously, “But Dad. How many 17-year-old girls say they want to spend more time with their fathers?”

That question seemed to cut to the heart of something important. I know from personal experience how hard it can be for us dads to see what’s important when we strive to balance the demands of paid work and fatherhood. While surveys indicate that younger dads increasingly list family time as a priority, most fathers still tend to judge our contributions to the family by the size of our paychecks.

We men must broaden our definition of being a “successful provider” to include providing our time and our experience, as well as our affection, knowledge, and stories. It’s crucial that dads join mothers in the battle to win family-friendly workplace policies and legislation, particularly because our fellow fathers still lead most of this country’s large businesses and institutions. These guys set the policies that either encourage or inhibit us from participating more fully in our children’s lives. These are the guys who influence the standards by which we measure success.

So start making your family concerns visible at work, and start talking with other dads about how they balance work and family. Listen to their ideas, and then use these insights to begin the process of changing your workplace and others throughout your community.

For me, this whole issue boils down to the ultimate bottom line. When I die, it’s unlikely my gravestone will say “Joe Kelly, he appeared on national TV because he wrote a bunch of fathering books.” What I hope it will say is “Joe Kelly, Dad.”

)For a list of my fathering workshops—including The Dad Man’s Guide to Work-Family Balance—visit


Philip H. said...

While I can agree with you about making family issues known at work, and about making time consistently, I have to disagree that this is the only issue we need to overcome.

The plain truth is that, in our modern culture, there are still huge biases against the importance of fathers. When a husband and wife get divorced, more often then not the father is viewed primarily as a provider of monetary child support. His time with the kids is labeled "visitation." and if the kids are young, he could exhaust his savings and not get primary custody because society still believes that mothers are more important developmentally.

So I would add to you list the following:

1. Advocate for equal paid leave for fathers and mothers. it takes little time to write your Congressman or Senator an email, but if it's personal it will matter.

2. Refuse to accept the term "visitation" in any divorce related paperwork you are a party to. While some judges will balk (they think they can't legally say anything else), if you insist on "parenting time" you might just change things for your children.

3. Recognize that family support is a broad need in our society. If you own a business, head a department, or in any way manage people, take a critical look at what you are doing to help them be better family members and parents.

4. Telecommute.

Audrey said...

What a joy to have found your site!
Thank you for what you do!
I have an amazing husband and my girls are so lucky to have him. What a great resource for him!