When I recently wrote about working moms’ common complaints, one question people kept asking me was: Don’t working dads have it rough, too?
Of course, they do.
The intense criticism that Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy faced last week for taking a measly three days of paternity leave is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the challenges facing fathers who support their families and want to spend time with them.
I write about working moms a lot — because I am one, the subject interests me deeply. But any of us who are concerned about working mothers’ quality of life should also be talking about improving the circumstances of working fathers. The two causes are inextricably linked. When a working father has more time to devote to his family, a working mother can spare more time for her career. Even when one spouse works while the other doesn’t, the idea that a breadwinner would want to head to the occasional pediatrician’s appointment or leave early for a school play shouldn’t be considered radical.
Unfortunately, too many employers don’t see it that way — or, worse, just don’t care. One dad in the finance sector told me he left his job because it was expected that the wives of male employees would handle childcare exclusively so that the men were free to work ’round the clock.
“I didn’t want to stay at a place where it was assumed that I was the primary breadwinner and would therefore be working all the time and never be able to see my kids,” he said.
As a follow-up to last month’s post about working moms, here are some of the challenges working fathers shared with me — and one they didn’t. You’ll see that a number of the dads’ complaints are likely shared by working moms, while others are gender-specific.
Receiving Less Consideration Than Working Moms
One former creative director told me that, when it came to leaving early for the sake of their kids, women at his old company “were generally given a pass.” The working dads weren’t as fortunate.
“When men would use the same reason — ‘I have to put the kids down’ — they were often jeered afterward as somehow being not committed enough. You see this happen enough and suddenly you start making other excuses to leave, as if putting the kids down was somehow an illegitimate reason to go home at 9 PM,” he said.
Another dad told me that moms have it better with respect to something else: showing emotions at work. Former tech executive Gary Dietz, now the author of the book Dads of Disability, said that, in his experience, when a woman broke down crying over a sad or frightening child-related situation, it didn’t affect her standing at work. But when Dietz — whose son is severely disabled — did it, he paid a price.
“I’ve had, on more than one occasion, a management team stop communicating to me,” he said. “They were thinking, ‘Who the hell is this guy crying? We don’t need someone unstable to be a senior manager.'”
‘Crazy’ Hours, Too Little Vacation
How do you balance a time-intensive job with the need to see your children? Sometimes, it’s impossible, especially when your employer limits time off.
“The hours were crazy and time off was very restricted. I would be scared to call out due to fear of my boss losing his mind,” HR manager Jamal Salim said of his former company. “I would go days without spending time with my children.”
No Schedule Flexibility
David Bakke, of the financial website Money Crashers, told me how a former employer refused to make schedule changes to accommodate Bakke’s child-related events, a factor that ultimately played into Bakke’s decision to leave his job.
“What made it even worse is that he justified his actions by saying that he missed out on his children’s activities all the time, and they understood because they knew that it was his job,” Bakke said.
Special Arrangements Stigmatized
Even when employers do allow schedule changes for working dads, a certain stigma may persist.
“I made special arrangements before I started there to arrive late every morning at about 9 AM because I had to drop off my youngest daughter, then in kindergarten … At first this was accepted, but pressure built over time. I would miss meetings scheduled for the early morning, and no matter how many times I reminded them of my hours, still found myself having to beg forgiveness for dropping my own kid off at school,” the ex-creative director dad said.
I heard something similar from editor Orin Hahn about a former employer who allowed Hahn to arrange his schedule around his daughter’s summer camp morning drop-off.
“(I) asked my employer to time shift my day so I could leave at 4 (PM) and come in before we actually opened, while it was accommodated and I put in same amount of hours there was often a ‘getting away with something’ vibe in our interactions afterwards,” he said.
Insensitivity to Children’s Medical Emergencies
Dietz said that no fewer than six different employers kept making the assumption that his wife would be the one to care for their severely disabled son during his hospitalizations.
“They’d say, ‘Well, why can’t your wife deal with it,'” he told me. “Like I’m not going to go to the hospital when my son has a serious operation because my wife can deal with it?”
When Happy Hours Aren’t So Happy
Company-sponsored social events can be great fun when they happen during business hours. But after-work events can be a burden for parents who just want to head home to their families. One father called it “mandatory fun.” Often such events aren’t mandatory at all, but workplace experts will tell you that missing out on the opportunity to bond with your coworkers and your superiors isn’t great for your career.
Lack of Paternity Leave
Of the roughly dozen fathers I heard from, no one cited paternity leave as a problem. It’s worth noting that I gathered responses just before the Daniel Murphy story happened … perhaps more fathers would have had the issue on their minds if I’d spoken to them in recent days. In any case, we know that, generally, nonexistent or paltry paternity leave is something an increasing number of dads seem to be struggling with: The vast majority of U.S. companies do not offer paid paternity leave and last year, CNN reporter Josh Levs famously filed a complaint against his employer’s parent company for offering little paid leave to new fathers.
On a positive note, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from several dads who said they were pleased with how their current employers handle work/life balance issues.
“I am able to spend a lot more time with the family because of the flexibility that the company offers,” said Salim, who now manages human resources and administration at the digital agency BoomBox. “If I need to come in a little late because of a family situation, I no longer have that anxiety of being scolded by my boss. It is a much more comfortable and caring environment.”
Comfortable and caring … Dad or mom, parent or not, I think we’d all like to see more of that at our jobs. As Dietz told me, “It’s just about humanity.”
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Photo via morgueFile.