Awareness of fatherhood issues, particularly of fathers’ work-family concerns, is hitting the zeitgeist. Here’s why I am thrilled.
Entertainment and Sports Focus on Fatherhood
Specifically, the past 12 months saw a surge in societal and media attention on fatherhood. NBC launched a sitcom “Men with Kids” and A&E premiered its reality show “Modern Dads,” both focusing on men as the primary caregivers for their families. Popular humorous memoir-style books on fatherhood have been written by comedians Jim Gaffigan, “Dad is Fat,” and Adrian Kulp, “Dad or Alive: Confessions of an Unexpected Stay-at-Home Dad.”
The sports media have also covered this issue extensively. ESPN and other major golf and sports outlets applauded when Pro golfer Hunter Mahan left a $1 million tournament he was leading when his wife unexpectedly went into early labor. Dozens of Major League Baseball players make use of MLB’s paternity leave policy. Several 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.
Fathers in Public Discourse
It was especially a banner year for public discussion of fathers’ work-family concerns. For instance, fathers’ work-family concerns were covered on the Today Show, were the basis of cover story of the June 3, 2013 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, were extensively covered in a special “fatherhood” issue of Esquire (June/July 2013), and were given serious treatment in The Atlantic.
The continuing conversations around Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In,” and two widely reported Pew surveys have drawn more attention to the struggles of dual-career couples in which men and women navigate provider and caretaker roles together.
Working Fathers and Academia
From an academic viewpoint, researchers at Boston College, UC Hastings Law School, and other universities have led the way by examining the unique challenges faced by working dads. Three recent (and really good) academic books, “Superdads” by sociologist Gayle Kaufman, “Baby Bust” by fellow 1MFWF Supporter Stew Friedman, and “The Daddy Shift” by Jeremy Adam Smith, have been written on fathers grappling with work and family. A solid 15 percent of the program at the upcoming Work and Family Researchers Network conference is specifically focused on working fathers.
Workplace Support of Fathers
Pioneering companies including Yahoo (yes, Yahoo), PwC, 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 aren’t doing this to be charitable. They understand that a balanced approach to employee management and workplace flexibility are important ways to attract and retain key talent while avoiding the performance declines associated with chronic overwork. True, there is still a lot of “old-school” management out there, but employee-oriented approach to employee management is becoming the norm in some industries. Business leaders who take a long-term view are seeing reductions in employee turnover, increased motivation, and improved work performance.
Public Policy and Paid Paternal Leave
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 Act, which has been proposed in the U.S. Senate, would apply this model nationwide. There’s a long way to go, but change has a way of occurring very slowly until a tipping point is reached.
In my own role as a fathers’ work-family advocate, I have written about working dads’ issues for Harvard Business Review, the Huffington Post, and the Good Men Project, and have made multiple appearances on NPR as well other media outlets, including HuffPostLive and Left Jab Radio.
The time is right to accelerate our discussion about fathers, work, and family. I believe that when more attention is paid to men’s work-family concerns:
- These issues 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.
- Fathers, mothers, kids, families, society, and even employers will benefit.
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. As a dad and fatherhood advocate, I couldn’t be happier.
As the 1 Million for Work Flexibility movement highlights, the issues of work flexibility, balance, and paid leave, are critical for all of us, including fathers. When we unite to highlight our various perspectives—moms, dads, millennials, people with disabilities, retirees, and more—our voices will grow that much stronger. Join me and add your name to the million.
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