This Father's Day, being a dad was apparently more stressful than ever. Explanations for this range from employers failing to take into account new family dynamics to a supposedly "female-dominated world."
Tara Parker-Pope writes in the Times that dads are now more likely than moms to be dissatisfied with their work-life balance — 59% of fathers reported some kind of "work-life conflict" in one study, compared to 45% of women with kids. Some of these conflicts may be caused by a general perception that dads don't really need time off for family obligations, or that taking such time is somehow unmanly. "The New Dad" study conducted at Boston College found that men were less likely than women to ask for flexible work schedules, and were more likely to take "stealth" or informal time off instead. And, says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, men who do want to balance fatherhood and career must blaze new trails — "Women have been doing it for a longer time," she says, "and they have more role models."
Of course, women have also been facing the stigma of parenthood at the office for longer, and experience their own form of discrimination — the fact that employers assume they will want time off to care for kids may contribute to the wage gap. And dads stressed out by "the new ideal of the good father as a nurturing father, not just a provider father" (as work-life expert Joan C. Williams puts it) may find little sympathy from moms who have long been expected to provide and nurture, while maintaining immaculate homes and attractive bodies as well. These moms may be particularly skeptical of the phenomenon of the "mancation," in which groups of men retreat to wilderness areas or hotels complete with "man-caves." The Journal's Sue Shellenberger quotes one mancationer who says, "It's a mental vacation away from work, the stress of being a father and husband and provider." Shellenberger adds that some men see mancationing as a way to "escape what they regard as an increasingly female-dominated world."
We're far from living in such a world, and the complaints of men may seem obnoxious to women who struggle daily with both gender bias and "work-life conflict." But rather than dismissing dads' troubles out of hand, we should recognize that better working conditions for fathers would mean more equality for all. MSNBC's Eve Tahmincioglu quotes economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who says, "Increasingly men are ‘ramping down' - working from home Friday afternoons or staggering their hours in order to pick up more domestic responsibilities." If men continue to do this — and if employers recognize and enable the practice — then perhaps families can share childcare more easily, allowing men and women to find an arrangement that works for both of them rather than letting all duties fall on Mom. And if men start actually asking for flexibility (rather than taking it "stealthily"), perhaps all workers who need to spend time with their families will be less stigmatized. A common excuse for continued wage inequality is that women who want family time simply aren't committed to their careers — perhaps if men requested time off too, employers would wake up and realize that having kids and a job isn't some kind of unreasonable demand. Hewlett says more men are "stepping back without stepping out" of the workforce, an option many moms have long craved. It would be a little sad if they could only get this opportunity once dads started asking for it — but the outcome would be good for all.
Also potentially good for everyone: changing notions of fatherhood and masculinity. Mancation Nation co-owner Randy Goodman says the getaways he offers aren't "drunken things where guys chase women," but that "we're trying to make you better men. When we send you home from here, we want you fast, fit and fun." And one mancationer reports that he spent an eight-week trip convincing his buddies to eat more vegetables. Of course, fitness and veggies don't necessarily make a good man, but they do deviate somewhat from bro stereotypes. And the Good Men Project's recent emphasis on fatherhood suggests a growing cultural awareness that a good man is also (if he has kids, that is) a good dad. Now if employers could recognize that good dads often want to spend time with their children, we might actually get somewhere.