Scott Behson, PhD, is a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University and a national expert in work and family issues. Scott also founded and runs the popular blog, Fathers, Work, and Family, dedicated to helping working fathers and encouraging more supportive workplaces. He writes regularly for the Harvard Business Review Online, Huffington Post and the Good Men Project, and has also written for Time and the Wall Street Journal. Scott has appeared on MSNBC, CBS This Morning, Fox News and Bloomberg Radio, as well as NPR’s Morning Edition, Radio Times, and All Things Considered. His book, The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home, comes out today. Contact him @ScottBehson.
1MFWF: When we think of demographic groups that need special support, men rarely come to mind. What inspired you to write a book directed at working fathers?
Scott: I wrote The Working Dad’s Survival Guide to provide potentially life-changing advice and encouragement to my fellow busy dads. There are millions of men, myself very much included, working really hard to juggle a successful career with being the loving, involved dads we always wanted to be—and that our families need us to be.
Our society doesn’t often acknowledge the challenge of being a good dad when the workplace expects “all in” performance and when roles at home are changing so rapidly. Perhaps, more than anything, I hope the dads who read the book realize that they are not alone, and that the moms, managers, and others who read it can gain a better understanding of the challenges working dads face. After all, involved fatherhood is really good for moms and kids, too.
1MFWF: What are some of the main skills you hope working fathers will gain from reading your book?
Scott: My favorite review of the book states, “You’ll discover how to make family time more memorable, how to negotiate more flexibility with your boss, and why you should pack at least one stuffed animal on every business trip.” I love that; it really captures the essence of the book.
In the first part of the book, I help dads think through their work and family priorities, have conversations with their spouses about what they each want out of life, and how they can work together, over time, to align their lives with their priorities. This also involves financial planning. Virtually everyone wants to be successful in their careers and be a good parent and partner. Sometimes, all it takes is a little conscious effort to keep one’s choices aligned with those goals.
Then I help readers navigate the workplace and explore their options for working more flexibly and more time-efficiently. Using my background as a business professor and a work-life advocate, I help dads better understand their options and the aspects of workplace culture that they may need to address. The book contains specific advice on negotiating for telework, and on consciously assessing whether one’s career path is conducive to a full life. I also help dads explore their options when it comes to paternity leave. I share the stories of dozens of dads that I interviewed for the book, some who are successful in gaining freedom and flexibility, and some who feel stuck. We have a lot to learn from each other.
Finally, I help dads create and defend family time from the demands of work and the ever-present smartphone, and then make the best use of this family time. After all, the whole point of family time is to enjoy the time you spend, and to create lifelong bonds with your kids. To illustrate, I tell the stories of dozens of fellow working dads, as well as stories from my own life. Dads also have to pay attention to their own needs for relaxation, exercise, social time and couple time. After all, if you’re exhausted and unfulfilled, you have less of yourself to give those you love.
1MFWF: We hear a lot about how moms face a “flexibility stigma” at work. But dads face this hurdle as well—how so?
Scott: Some research has found that dads actually face more “flexibility stigma” than moms, in that men violate both “work-first culture” and traditional gender norms if they out themselves as involved parents. This is a key reason many dads keep their family-related actions under the radar, opting for informal and ad-hoc solutions, rather than formally requesting things like telecommuting or paternity leave. I’ve talked to dads who were marginalized after taking paternity leave, and others who were confronted by “old school” bosses when trying to leave work early on a Friday after putting in a seventy-hour week. There are also many dads who have found family-supportive employers and bosses that enable them to find work-family solutions that work great for them.
However, this isn’t a competition. Of course, so much of the burden of work and family falls hardest on working women. However, if workplaces acknowledge and respect the family and life responsibilities of all their employees, then both moms and dads will benefit at work. Further, when men are better supported as fathers, then moms don’t feel they have to shoulder all the parenting work themselves.
1MFWF: You emphasize the importance of fatherhood networks and something you call “Beer Fire”. What value do these groups offer, and why aren’t moms included?
Scott: Especially because the challenges of involved fatherhood aren’t discussed much, I think it is crucially important that dads get together with their fellow dads for friendship and informal support. It’s the male equivalent of a well-deserved “girls night out!”
For dads who are doing it right, we spend lots of time at work, and spend most of our remaining time at home with our spouses and kids. That’s part of the deal with being a good provider and a good dad. But if we don’t have some time to relax and recharge, we burn out.
In my neighborhood, a dozen or so local dads get together every now and then for what we call a “Beer Fire”—basically talking over a few beers while sitting around a backyard fireplace. We don’t have an agenda with topics to discuss, but, organically, conversation drifts to our families and our jobs, and we wind up helping each other out with advice or at least a friendly ear. Other dads fulfill this need for companionship in bowling leagues or poker games or movie nights. And, sometimes it’s good to be with the guys for just a few hours after spending lots of time at tea parties and watching Frozen for the 200th time!
1MFWF: You faced opposition from publishers who were intrigued by this topic, but were concerned it wouldn’t resonate with enough readers. Why do you think that this is the right moment to shine a light on the needs of working fathers?
Scott: When I was first pitching my book proposal, there was an editor who thought the book looked great but passed because, and I quote, “we tried a book for dads in 1994 and it didn’t sell well.” Talk about living in the past. But no worries, I got my book deal with a great publisher and the book is available on Amazon and anywhere else you can buy books!
That editor’s attitude is completely out of step with how most of us live our lives. In 85% of dual-parent households, both parents work. This means both moms and dads are pursuing career success and sharing the load at home more evenly than ever before. Dads do three times as much child-care and twice the housework of dads a generation ago. Virtually every dad I know cares deeply about being a good father and husband—not just a provider. And the millennials who are starting to become parents themselves are even more egalitarian than we are.
I think the time is definitely right for The Working Dad’s Survival Guide. Society is starting to recognize the importance of involved fatherhood, and when I spoke at the White House Summit for Working Families last year, I heard the male CEOs of Ernst & Young, PwC, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Shake Shack, and many more talk about how work-family balance is a real concern in their own lives and how they are getting their companies to address these concerns for all their employees—both moms and dads. Positive change is happening very quickly, and I’m thrilled to play a role in this movement.
Learn more from Scott about the importance of work flexibility for working families in the webinar we hosted with him last fall:
photo credit: Scott Behson