Tuesday, February 12, 2013



One of the reasons I like President Obama is that he’s clearly a Dad.  I don’t just mean that he has children; I mean that he’s obviously an involved parent.  (If you haven’t seen the video of the two-year-old at the Medal of Honor ceremony, check it out.  Obama responded as a seasoned parent would.)  

That isn’t always easy.  I smiled in rueful recognition at this piece from the Washington Post about the prices that involved Dads pay at work.  In brief, fathers who take time to be with their kids are penalized at work even more than mothers are.  It’s a kind of gender-deviance penalty.  And it’s real.  When TB was born, it was on a Monday; my boss told me that he expected me in the office by Friday.  He never did that with new Moms.  In this line of work, a reduced travel schedule and a reluctance to move on a regular basis bring real costs.  Dads who are willing to slough off parenting duties don’t pay those costs; Dads who aren’t, do.

I smiled ruefully again at this piece from the Harvard Business Review.  The Nordic countries are known for their world-leading family friendliness.  They provide paid parental leave for over a year, and they require that the Dads take at least some of it.  As a result, it has become normal for new fathers to take some time with their kids.  The benefits of that are everywhere: the mothers get a break, the fathers develop parental competence, the kids get the benefit of attachment to two competent parents, and the workplace gets a generation of both men and women who understand what it is to be both an employee and a parent.  As a result, the workplace is structured around an assumption that being a caretaker of some sort is a normal part of life.  

We tend not to work that way here.  Part-time pay isn’t scaled to full-time in most circumstances, so earning a decent salary (and health insurance) generally involves at least one full-time job.  Parental leave is usually brief and unpaid, to the extent it exists at all.  I couldn’t help but notice in the HBR piece that the male Scandinavian managers who did so well in Scandinavia struggled when they had to manage American men, who read their egalitarian ways as weak.  A brutal system rewards brutal behavior; blind spots reproduce themselves.  In a culture that gets some basic issues wrong, thoughtfulness can be a liability.

So I respect the American Dads who do the extra work and walk the walk.  They -- and on a good day, I like to think “we” -- are swimming upstream in this culture, but it’s worth doing.

Last night was the town Daddy-Daughter dance, so I took The Girl.  We both dressed up -- I even bought her a wrist corsage, the first time I’ve bought one of those since the Reagan administration -- and we went to a local country club for the annual event.

The place was chockablock with Dads and their daughters, mostly ages five to about twelve.  (TG is eight.)  The first couple of times we went, TG stuck close to me and mostly danced with me.  Last year, she split her time about evenly between her friends and me.  This year, I was a distinct second place; still welcome, but clearly not the point.  (I’m told that in a few years, I won’t even be welcome.)  I didn’t mind.

Watching TG with her friends, I couldn’t help but be proud.  She was exuberant but not obnoxious, dancing in her patented ways and inventing some new ones.  She led one of her friends in a version of the tango, which I didn’t know she knew.  Her cluster of friends started a conga line during “Call Me Maybe,” which made up its incongruity in pure charm.  And yes, I got out there with her a few times.  I even managed to keep my composure during “I Loved Her First,” a song designed specifically to reduce Dads to quivering masses of jello.  

But my proudest moments with her were afterwards.  She’s comfortable talking to me.  It’s the kind of comfort that comes from putting in the time.  She floats theories, asks questions, cracks wise, and listens like it matters.  We actually enjoy each other’s company.

The clock is ticking on this stage; adolescence with its angst lurks around the corner.  At that point, a little more distance may well be functional.  But for now, I’ll take a certain countercultural pride in knowing that The Girl -- and The Boy -- are getting real parenting from both Mom and Dad.  And I’ll keep pushing, in my way, for a world that recognizes that caregiving is a normal part of life.  Let’s get some thoughtful parents building workplaces that allow for thoughtful parents.  It can be done, and it’s worth doing.  It’s time to stop reproducing blind spots, and start noticing the shards of sheer genius that fall out of eight year old girls’ mouths at the end of the day.

When TB was born, it was on a Monday; my boss told me that he expected me in the office by Friday. He never did that with new Moms.

It's not only male bosses that hold those views. One of my ex-colleagues had to get the union involved to get our (female) boss to approve his statutory parental leave. She (and a lot of the women on staff) saw it as "maternal leave", despite the labor laws*.

*As well as the fact that the government had increased the time allotted to allow fathers to take it as well, and also changed the name from "maternal leave" to "parental leave".
When TB was born, it was on a Monday; my boss told me that he expected me in the office by Friday. He never did that with new Moms.

When I had my son, my female boss (the dean) sent an email to the Academic VP complaining that none of the faculty showed up for a scheduled meeting on a Tuesday. The meeting was (1) during finals, at a time when many of us had finals to proctor and (2) I had just given birth three days earlier, on Saturday. So, it's not just male bosses and it's not just dads.
A graceful and thoughtful post.

When my daughter arrived, my wife's (female) supervisor denied her FMLA application (federal post, BTW) and I was new in my own state civil-service job. My wife had to save up every bit of annual, holiday and sick leave she was owed and use it; my own (also female) supervisor, in contrast, had no trouble with family leave for me. We ended up splitting days for our daughter's first three months and that was a Very Good Thing.

Interestingly, my wife's supervisor had no trouble approving FMLA for a couple of new dads on her staff. Sigh.

I know it's really great that this event occurrs so that Dads and daughters can do something together but, as a non-American, I kinda find the idea of Daddy-daughter dances a bit "icky" especially for kids as young as 5-8.

It just perpetuates all the wrong kinds of gender sterotypes, it sets young girls up to see dressing themselves up and parading before men as the point of their existance and the same message to men - that their daughter's appearance and ability to please are the things that are important about her. Couldn't it be a Daddy/daughter quiz night/whacky challenges night or mix it up with Daddy/daughter & Mother/son dance night i.e. everyone together?
US parental leave and employment rights are antedeluvian.

I say this from a country where 12 months parental leave was not only statutorily entitlement, but for a long time was also the norm.

However, the sentence "When TB was born, it was on a Monday; my boss told me that he expected me in the office by Friday. He never did that with new Moms." seems to me to miss the pretty obvious point that someone who has just given birth has pretty significant health side-effects to recover from, and someone who hasn't, doesn't.

The other thing missing here is the effect which was oh so commonly noticed in the UK. If a man takes an hour or two off to go to a child's event (e.g. a sports day) he's a good father, if a woman is, she lacks commitment...

That said - flexible working for all I say! My friend got a kind of balance - she worked 3 days, hubbie worked 4. Kids had 3 days in daycare (Mum drop off, Dad pick up 2x, Grandma 1x) and the kids have grown up well.

That said, my friend ended up doing the vast majority of parent help time, and actually got less personal time than her husband - which matches most couples of my acquaintance.

Only one couple I know seem to have got the balance even, and in that family Dad stayed home after child number two was 6 months old (Mum went back to work "early" for us after only 6 months maternity leave.)
In my country, the gov increased the 6-week paid mandatory maternal leave to 12 weeks.
Our AD tho, is an extremely caring individual, as soon as the 6 weeks are up we get nightly phone call, to see how we are doing and if we "feel like" returning to work the next day.

The dads, however, get no leave!!
the Guy's MIL came to the classroom to let him know it was time, so he cancelled the classes that afternoon. His salary was cut.
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