Monday, October 18, 2010

Fathers and Sons…and Fathers Again.

I’ve never met a man who hasn’t been profoundly affected by his own father (though I’ve met many who’ve never recognized it). I am no different.

As I write this entry, I am sailing across the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver to Vancouver Island; my father is having anything from a triple to a quintuple bypass tomorrow morning in Victoria.

I’m long past the age where my parents are starting to appear mortal. Between my parents (and their various spouses) there have been hip transplants, cancers, surgeries and several strokes. It isn’t like I’ve never pondered the prospect of losing one or both of my parents.

I don’t anticipate anything going wrong with my dads operation tomorrow, but still, I can’t help but be reflective. My father is a good man, who like the rest of us, has had his fair share of struggles. He was on the wrong end of two divorces, seemed to have more career setbacks than successes, and saw way less of his four children than he would have liked. He has his passions, too: for Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and New Physics. For several years he has been working on a book which he feels can change the world. I admire his ambition.

I have regrets in my relationship with my father as I know he has with me. Most revolve around the time (or lack thereof) we spent together. And when we were with each other my father often seemed lost in thought. My dad would always find time to throw a ball or play a game of chess if I asked him, but he was never one to seek that engagement with me.

It’s no surprise then that as a father I seek out unsolicited activity time with my boys and am committed to being fully present to them when we are together. Even when I’m working, I find ways to have them work along with me. It’s no coincidence that my business revolves around helping absent, workaholic dads better connect with their kids.

In many ways, the mistakes our fathers made can be the greatest gifts they ever gave us. This isn’t to beat up on fathers by any means. This is borne from a sense of optimism that fathers and men are slowly evolving, and that awareness is the next step in that process. I certainly hope my sons will one day be able to learn from my countless parenting gaffes and become better fathers as a result. I want to know that my scaring errors won’t be in vain. Don’t we all?

I know my father feels very deeply that there are no accidents—that everything happens for a reason. As he goes over the tally sheet I hope he takes great comfort in knowing that I am a better father for having him as a father.

This past June, he sent me a Father’s Day card. In it he wrote, “You are the best dad I’ve ever known.”

It would appear he recognizes that his mistakes were not in vain.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Best Way to Improve a Working Mom’s Work Life Balance? Advocate for Men’s Work Life Balance.

I posted this on my Bettemen Solutions blog (my business where I help companies improve employee retention and productivity by addressing the unique work life balance changes faced by men.)  However, I think it is applicable for this forum, too. 

I came across what I see as destructive press regarding work life balance. Ironically, it was advocating for work life balance, but by its content, unwittingly reinforcing the standard paradigm.

It came from a UK Magazine called “Netmums” which advocates for working mothers. It is entitled “Employers ‘should give flexible benefits to mums.’” It goes on to say that “Flexible benefits are an especially good fit for busy working moms.” The inference in that last statement is that with all the extra responsibilities mom has as child raiser, home maker and career woman, she needs more flexibility than dad.

Now I’ve never argued that men and women share the domestic workload 50/50. I have argued, however, that if we want to move closer to an equal workload, we must deviate from the ridiculous idea that certain genders are better suited for specific roles.

The best thing a working mom can do for her own work life balance is to advocate for men’s work life balance. I know that sounds like a sexist comment so hear me out. We have women to thank for the strides that have been made in the last 40 years when it comes to workplace flexibility and leave policy. They have fought and lobbied to be recognized as moms and career women. Men, in spite of suffering from work life imbalance more than women (according to several bodies of research) aren’t likely to rally and advocate the way women did (and do). Likewise, men won’t start taking advantage of those hard fought policy victories by women in until they stop perceiving that doing so will be detrimental to their careers, and by extension, jeopardizing the well being of the families they work so hard to support. As long as the term “work life balance” is synonymous with “mommy overload”, we can continue to expect her to look after the house and kids. And the less we do to change attitudes in the workplace that the best thing a man can do for his family is get ahead in his career, men will continue, not only to burn out at a higher rate than women, but make more and more work for mom at home.

In short, work life balance is unlikely to improve for working moms until it improves for working dads. (We still live in a patriarchal society. Once a problem becomes a white male problem, we start to do something about it.) As long as we stay rooted in the old paradigm, men, women their families and their employers will all continue to pay the price.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Renewal of a Father (and the Death of Customer Service)

I’m sitting in the Calgary Airport as I write this. I have a four hour stop-over on my way home from the at home dads convention and despite having room on earlier flights, Air Canada wanted to charge me $75 when I requested they put me on an earlier plane--seventy-five dollars for an act which costs them nothing. Glad to see customer service is alive and well.

Anyway, I’m not going to allow abysmal airline policy ruin my terrific mood. I had such a fantastic weekend with the at home dads. We had two fabulous keynote speakers: psychologist, Dr. Bowers from the famous Boys Town facility and the incomparable trailblazer and author of, Brian Reid. Dr. Bowers shared some valuable insights into the way our children think and offered some great parenting strategies; Brian got us up to speed on the various ways census and others try and refine the definition of an at home dad. This is why you can find verifying reports on the number of American AHDs, ranging from 158,000 to four million.

The weekend was great for so many reasons: hearing the way other men parent their kids, shooting the manure about everything and anything, and simply being with a group of like minded men who truly “get it” when it comes to being a parent.

I thought often about the life of an at home dad vs. the life of a loving, caring father who is working 60 hours a week. In my workshops with working dads, they so often feel torn between wanting to spend way more time with their kids and providing for them by working such long hours. I realized that these men get out of the rat race cold turkey. Once they are at home full time, their roles are much more clearly defined. These men, unlike the working dads I meet, aren’t torn at all. When they transition back into the workforce (as most usually do) I trust these men will carry the torch of fatherhood to their respective workplaces, and help raise the profile the woefully neglected needs of the working father.

The other thing I loved about this weekend is that it solidified my own philosophy in raising my sons—namely that they grow up knowing that they are loved unconditionally. That doesn’t mean they get hugs and kisses for setting the sofa on fire, it just means that they know they are loved just for being themselves-- just for being born. That way, they don’t spend a lifetime looking backwards wondering, “What do I need to do to get the love and approval of my dad?” They already have it---in spades.