I consider myself fortunate to be working for an employer who understands the demands of fatherhood. This hasn’t always been the case. Through the course of my professional life, which has spanned the military, corporate America, freelance work, and small business, I’ve had bosses who discounted the value of fathers.
Such attitudes come from a general cluelessness shared by men who represented a different generation — everyone knows that fathers are much more involved these days. Still, half of working fathers surveyed in 2013 consider work-family balance a challenge while 46 percent feel they are still not spending enough time with their children.
I have certainly felt the pressure of this crunch, and it would be a lie to say I always chose family over work. Some circumstances, deployments for example, deny the option of choice; however, there have been other moments when I wished my superiors knew a few things about what it means to be a father. Here are five:
1. Work stays at work: Sure it’s necessary to put in a few extra hours here and there, but when I leave the office, I leave the office. I don’t bring home reports or open my laptop. I used to have a boss who always called when I was reading to my kids or giving them a bath, and he wouldn’t quit until I answered. Since then, I let my phone go dead at the end of the day or I put it in another room once I walk through the front door.
2. Paternity leave isn’t for the lazy: While the Family and Medical Leave Act allows for paternity leave, you don't get paid unless you live in one of the few states that require it. Even so, when my three sons were born there was an understanding that a few days off was OK, but any more than that and the baby wasn’t viewed as only one who was milking it. While I'm grateful for the few days I did have with my kids, a couple of weeks to bond with them and become a part of the regular routine would have been much better, especially if I didn't feel pressured to check in with the office each day.
3. Kids are not too young to remember if I’m gone: I had one boss who rationalized that his kids were too young to notice his work-related absences, a line of logic he also used when keeping me after hours. The truth, however, calls BS on this premise. Studies have shown that babies and toddlers remember far more than we once believed. And furthermore, why deprive fathers of those early days when it’s been shown that our level of oxytocin (the “love hormone”) increases, thus facilitating bonding with our babies? It’s science, people.
4. Time off for my kids isn’t an excuse to get out of work: A while back my stepdaughter came down with pneumonia, and I stayed home with her. On Monday my boss remarked what a great parent I was. By Thursday, though, he demanded I bring him a doctor’s note (which I did, but not before I had my stepdaughter breathe on it for a solid half hour). Just because my child is sick or “has a thing,” don’t misinterpret that as an excuse for me to slough off. In either case I’m going to be plenty busy, and, yeah, I might get a little behind, but I’ll get done what needs to be done because I’m a grown-up.
5. I’m more than just a paycheck: The biggest lie we are telling dads is that their only worth in life is as a breadwinner. I learned this to be quite the opposite during my stint as a stay-at-home dad, a J.O.B. where my self-worth no longer could be measured in promotions and performance bonuses (but could in number of hugs). Besides, research says that dads who are emotional providers are more successful.
Ironically, it’s been the bosses who respected my fatherly duties that have benefited the most from my best efforts. That’s because they knew that a happy employee is a more productive one.