One of NFI president Roland C. Warren’s new sayings is, “Every day, a dad must choose between courage and comfort. Because to be comfortable is never courageous, and to be courageous is never comfortable.”
I recently watched a movie that depicted a father’s transition from choosing the comfort of pursuing career success to the courage of being an involved father. Granted, this was an Eddie Murphy film, so it was more hilarious than sentimental, but it had an inspiring message that reflects the tension many dads feel between work and family.
In Imagine That
(2009 – Nickelodeon Movies), Eddie Murphy plays Evan, a financial advisor who has had phenomenal success in his career but has been pretty much absent as a father. It’s Evan’s week to have his daughter Olivia, and fulfilling his obligations as a father is an inconvenient hassle that he fears could derail his chance for a promotion - until he discovers that the security blanket that his seven-year-old daughter uses to visit her imaginary princess friends could be the key to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Olivia’s princesses magically share with her accurate predictions about stock futures and investment firm collapses. To get these unconventional insider tips, Evan has to enter Olivia’s imaginary world and, in the process, he fluctuates between genuinely bonding with his daughter and taking advantage of her to promote his career.
Olivia’s mother confronts Evan’s self-centeredness with a line that many dads need to hear: “You have two jobs – and one of them is being a father. She needs to know that you care just as much about that job as you do the other.” Ultimately, Evan realizes that being Olivia’s dad is more important than achieving financial success, even though that means walking away from some great career opportunities.
A couple months ago, I blogged about another father-friendly film
that deals with the tension between work and family. The producers of these two films are tapping into a common problem that dads face. In National Fatherhood Initiative’s 2006 study, Pop's Culture: A National Survey of Dads' Attitudes on Fathering
, the top obstacle that dads listed to being a good father was "work responsibilities" and #2 was media/pop culture. Given those two stats, and the fact that many media depictions of dads present them as a bumbling idiots, it’s refreshing to see films that portray dads making the courageous – but uncomfortable - choice to put their kids first.
My two weeks of paternity leave are over, so here I am back at the office. As any new dad knows, it is hard to leave the family on that first day. I know my wife still needs a lot of help, and I know I am going to miss the little guy a lot during the day. But I also know that there are bills to be paid, and part of my responsibility as a father is helping to pay those bills - so I am grateful that I have a great job to come back to!
Now begins the "work-family balance" phase of my fatherhood journey. Already in my first day back I have made a few decisions differently than I would have before the baby came - I turned down an opportunity to attend an event on Saturday, and I scheduled an afternoon meeting a little earlier so I can get home on time tomorrow.
Once my wife goes back to work in March/April, then the real work-family balance challenges will start. But it is good to have this warm up period where I can adjust my perspective.
I will close by talking about the two activities that I have found to be most satisfying at this very early stage of the baby's life:
- Reading to him.
Sure he can't understand a word I am saying, but the sound of my voice relaxes him after he eats, and he seems to fall asleep faster while listening to my dulcet tones as I read epic fantasy novels aloud. They say it helps his brain develop its "language part" by hearing the rhythm and tone of the language being spoken, so I am all for that!
- Helping him fall asleep.
He has started to enjoy lying on my chest to fall asleep. I guess the rhythm of my breathing and the sound of my heartbeat is relaxing. Once he falls asleep, it is fun to turn him over and see how the side of his face is all scrunched up from being pressed against my t-shirt. Very cute.
In closing, here is a moment that my wife captured on camera when the boy and I fell asleep together - like father, like son!
Anyone who is even a little bit interested in college football has heard of Urban Meyer's unexpected early retirement.
Oh wait, I'm sorry. He's not retiring, just taking an "indefinite leave of absence"...? Apparently Brett Favre Fever is spreading to college football.
At any rate, Meyer stepped down after a health scare, when he awoke with severe chest pains and lost consciousness for a stretch of time. His greuling schedule and relentless efforts were taking their toll.
As Florida fans and tv pundits scrambled to understand the decision, Meyer's 18 year-old daughter immediately celebrated her father's choice. The NY Times
quotes her as saying, "I get my daddy back." Wow.
Whether or not Meyer coaches again, he's had to learn a lesson the hard way. Work-family balance is an elusive ideal, hard for any parent to achieve. Let's take a lesson from this football great and aim for excellence on and off the field this year - at work and with family.
Even in time of recession, work-family balance is still a popular topic. As is this recent study
from the British Equality and Human Rights Commission. They surveyed over 2,200 British fathers about issues related to work, to childcare and household responsibilities, and to differences between mom and dad.
Some of the findings:
- Fathers do want to spend more time with their children, and want to make their children a priority. 54% of dads with children under the age of 1 year felt that they spend too little time with their child.
- More mothers (34%) than fathers (23%) believe that child care is the primary responsibility of the mother.
- There is still a big gap between what flexible working options are available to fathers, and to what extent fathers are actually using those flexible work solutions.
This begs the question - do fathers continue to feel that using flexible work options is potentially damaging to their career? Or are there larger more diverse sets of reasons that fathers don't take the leave available to them?
In this piece from the Wall Street Journal
, General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, pulls no punches in telling working moms that if they choose to spend more time with their families, they are likely giving up the highest levels of career advancement. Thus, he says, there is no such thing as work-family balance, only work-family choices.
He makes some valid points, but he takes his argument to an extreme and among the things he leaves out of his analysis is the fact that working fathers are equally susceptible to being left back for not being there "in the clutch, as he puts it.
In fact, working fathers who spend "too much time" with their families may be even more stigmatized than working mothers, as it is less expected of them to leave work early for the ballet recital.
Do you think Welch's views are representative of today's corporate CEOs, or is he part of the old guard, being replaced by a younger generation of corporate leaders who are more attuned to the work-family balance needs of both men and