We Need to Start Giving Stay-at-Home Dads More Credit

Involved fatherhood is and should be considered completely normal. Yet, until very recently, involved dads have been alternately ignored or overly celebrated as doing something exceptional.
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This article was written by Scott Behson, Ph.D. on AskMen.

Two months ago, Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets became the 100th baseball player to make use of Major League Baseball's 72-hour paternity leave policy, which was enacted before the 2011 season.

Most other players' leaves flew under the radar. However, Murphy was publicly vilified by two prominent sports radio personalities. Their implication was, "How dare a man prioritize family over work, even for 72 hours. He doesn't even have breasts!!!"

This whole incident was revelatory in that, while it is an open secret that many men want to be, and increasingly are, hands-on fathers, they still can't be seen as violating the "man code" of being first, always and forever a breadwinner and only secondarily a parent. And this even applies to fortunate dads like Murphy, who have financial means and employers willing to support them. There is a strange wall of silence that has built up over the issue of involved fathers working hard to juggle work and family demands.

This is madness! Involved fatherhood is and should be considered completely normal. Yet, until very recently, involved dads have been alternately ignored or overly celebrated as doing something exceptional.

As a busy, involved father who also works hard in my career, I resent both being ignored and being given too much credit for being a hands-on parent. Please don't call me a "superdad" because my wife and I worked out a way to be equal co-parents. I'm just doing what the vast majority of my peers do every day -- working to provide for my family, supporting my wife's career and spending lots of quality time caring for and pouring myself into my kids. Dads' everyday efforts are completely normal.

Why don't more people recognize this? I blame the wall of silence.

As a society, we don't talk enough about the work-family life challenges fathers confront, and we fail to recognize that so many dads are running themselves ragged to succeed both in their careers and in their families. A little support from employers, public policy and society would be nice.

Because we don't talk about fathers' work-family challenges at the workplace, managers have not had to confront these concerns. As a result, very few employers offer paternity leave or other forms of work-family flexibility programs (telecommuting, flextime and so on) to men. Even when companies offer these policies, most dads fear adverse career consequences (with good reason) -- and, as a result, don't utilize them. In fact, even among high-income white-collar workers, about 75% of dads cobble together a week or less of accumulated sick, vacation or personal days when their children are born. And this is in the professional sector, in which dads are most likely to have job security, understanding bosses and financial means. Most hourly waged workers could only dream of extended paternity leaves.

The fear of career consequences even extends to employers who repeatedly have won accolades for flexibility and family-friendliness. I have a friend at a company that was recently ranked as having the most generous paternity leave policy among Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For. In the months before his wife was due to give birth, he asked around about paternity leave options, and his supervisors and coworkers told him he certainly could take his full 12 weeks of leave, but that it would be "career suicide" to do so (to his credit, he took the full offered leave).

Further, family responsibility discrimination lawsuits are on an exponential rise, in large part fueled by a huge uptick in men suing for being discriminated against based on taking parental leave and other policies that are in the employee manual but that employers assumed only "mommy track" women would ever deign to use.

The failure to support working fathers obviously hurts dads. But it also harms kids, who miss out on all the benefits of involved fatherhood -- including better health, better grades, higher rates of graduation, and lower rates of incarceration and teen pregnancy. It hurts families, who lose out on opportunities to spend more time together. It harms companies, who have seen a sharp uptick in employee burnout from overwork, reduced performance and higher turnover. Perhaps most acutely, it harms the cause of working women. After all, the equality of women in the workplace is intrinsically linked to supporting the equality of fathers as parents.

Men shouldn't be shamed for wanting to bond or spend time with their families -- but this means that we all need to work together to create a culture where this is seen as what it should be: completely normal.

On a more positive note -- back to Daniel Murphy. After he was criticized for prioritizing family, the public overwhelmingly came to his defense. They shouted down the radio loudmouths, and as an admittedly unscientific poll shows, a 95% to 5% margin supported Murphy in taking paternity leave.

The public reaction to the Murphy situation really heartened me, and it has convinced me more than ever that as soon as we do away with the wall of silence and start discussing the challenges faced by working dads, the more evident the importance of these issues become.

We still have a long way to go, but, for the first time, the tide is beginning to turn and dads' work-family issues are finally being discussed in the popular media, mainstream press, academic research, and by business leaders. In fact, I was at the White House just this past week, presenting at a Summit on Working Fathers along with business leaders, advocates and high-ranking government officials. For the first time, working dads are literally on the national agenda. (This is change I can believe in!) As a dad and a fatherhood advocate, I couldn't be happier. When working dads are supported, families are stronger.

After all, work-family is not a woman's issue. And it's not a man's issue. It's a family issue that affects us all. It's time we started talking more about it.

Scott Behson, Ph.D., is a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a busy involved dad and an overall grateful guy. As a national expert in work and family issues, Scott was a featured speaker at the recent White House Summit on Working Families. Scott also founded and runs the popular blog Fathers, Work and Family, dedicated to helping working fathers and encouraging more supportive workplaces. He writes regularly for the Harvard Business Review Online, Huffington Post and the Good Men Project, and has also written for Time and the Wall Street Journal. Scott has appeared on CBS This Morning, NPR Morning Edition and HuffPost Live. You can follow him on Twitter @ScottBehson.

You can read the original article on involved fatherhood on AskMen.