A Balancing Act

I recently attended the National Work & Family Roundtable, a forum for corporate leaders to discuss the demands of work, home and community on their employees.  Since I normally work in the realms of non-profits, foundations, academia and government, I was pleased and inspired to spend the day with my organizational development and design peers in the corporate sector.
The topic of the day was “Men, Fatherhood, and Worklife,” and everyone in the room felt it was timely and essential considering the dramatic transformation that has occurred for women in the workplace over the past 40 years.  According to recent statistics:

  • Women make up 51.4% of managerial, professional and related positions in the U.S. labor force;
  • Wives earn more than their spouses in almost a third of married households where the wife works (although in general, women still earn only 78% of their male counterparts); and
  •  Females now outnumber males in entering classes at medical schools across the country.
While this has been a huge plus for women and society in general, women still carry the main burden for managing home and family life.  Part of this is due to traditional gender roles and paradigms at home, but part of it is due to the dynamics of the traditional work culture.  While it has been seen as a positive trait for a male employee to have a family (an encumbered employee is a loyal employee), workplaces have expected that the men would always put their job before their family.   One panelist shared a story of a 62-year old corporate executive who made it to the top but didn’t know his children’s birthdates.  “There are sacrifices you have to make,” the executive said.
Many working fathers today would not choose to make those sacrifices, but they still do not take advantage of family friendly policies for fear of being seen by management as uncommitted to the company and getting passed over for promotions.  A recent study showed that most men took an average of just one week of paternity leave even if they wanted to take more time and their company allowed it.  When a working woman negotiates a flex schedule in order to be home by 3:00, needs to pick up a sick child or take an elderly parent to the doctor, typically eyebrows are not raised.  But if a working father attempts these actions, it is often looked upon with suspicion.  In response, my good friend Dan shared these inspiring words, “We have an opportunity to create a new breed of fathers and caregivers in the workplace.”  
This led me to think about the first line of my personal mission statement …
“My mission is to be a good father.”
Of course, I can’t think of any father who would not embrace this as their primary mission in life.  But when I adopted Rafael 15 years ago, I made six promises to him and to myself in order to fulfill my mission.  The first promise is -
I will design my life and livelihood to be fully present for my children.
For me, that meant leaving my job and starting my own consulting practice in order to have the flexibility to spend both quality and quantity time with Rafael.   I have been very fortunate to have built a career that has allowed me to be available for the boys, do meaningful work and make ends meet.  And while we have had to live pretty simply, I have been very happy with how I have balanced work and family life.  Others have noticed this balance as well, and have sought out my services as a coach and mentor.
Like me, there are millions of single dads, stay-at-home dads or gay dads out there who have pioneered new models of balancing work, family and personal life.  And let’s not forget the millions of women who have been doing this for generations.  They may have a thing or two to teach us. I believe we need to step up our work in reshaping and redefining what it means to be a great partner, husband, father, worker, provider, and man in a culture that is constantly changing.  Send me your thoughts on this topic and let’s continue this conversation. 

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