Changing the Conversation: Working Dads Prioritizing Family

It has been an interesting week observing working dads in the news.

We've witnessed Daniel Murphy, Mets playoff superstar, demonstrate that taking a few days of paternity leave had no negative impact on his ability to perform on the ballfield. In fact, he has set a new record for consecutive playoff games with home runs and was named National League Championship Series MVP. Being clear about his commitment to his family has not diminished his ability to excel at his job.

In the political arena, we have Representative Paul Ryan speaking out about his desire to protect his family time. He's gotten some flak for it from certain corners, but he seems to be poised to be named the next Speaker of the House, despite the conditions he has set. In his extremely high-profile position, it is rare to see a man (or woman, for that matter) establish such a firm boundary on personal life, so his declaration is newsworthy and prompting national conversation.

This phenomenon of fathers prioritizing family over work is one that we have been observing in our research over the past six years through interviews and surveys with thousands of men, published in a series of reports entitled The New Dad. We found that over 77 percent of fathers want to spend more time with their children, but are unable to do so because of work demands. And 94 percent of the fathers we surveyed agreed that when considering a new job, they would reflect on how much that job would interfere with their ability to care for their children.

In addition, 89 percent of dads believe it's important for employers to provide paternity leave so that they can be present and involved from the very first days of their child's life. Leading companies including IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, and MetLife (all of whom presented on a panel with Prof. Brad Harrington to a packed room at the recent Working Mother Work-Life Congress) are responding to this call, and are setting the tone for other organizations to follow suit. A number of cities and municipalities like San Francisco, Boston, and most recently Washington D.C., have begun to institute paid family leave for both mothers and fathers.

This conversation must continue so that all men, not only those in these leading companies, prominent government positions, and major-league teams, can feel empowered to speak out about their family roles.

Now in the spotlight as a spokesperson for work-life balance, maybe, just maybe, Representative Paul Ryan will recognize that dads all over the country want and need this family time and consider becoming an advocate for expanding opportunities for paid family leave and workplace flexibility for all workers.

Daniel Murphy catalyzed a national conversation on paternity leave last year and went on to have his best season ever. Can Rep. Ryan push the work-family conversation to the next level so that once and for all, parenting and caregiving can cease being marginalized as a woman's issue, and be valued for its importance to society?

One can hope.

This post is part of the National Work and Family Month Blog Fest.