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Dads Weigh In On Work-Life Balance


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms and dads in your corner. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy advice and, on this program, we've tapped into that national conversation around work-life issues.

A conversation that got another jolt this past summer when former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an eye-catching piece for The Atlantic magazine called "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." It was actually about mothers. She detailed all the reasons why it's still hard for mothers to reach the top ranks of the professions.

But that conversation has sparked another one, which is, where are the men, the dads, in all this? That's a question that writer Ken Gordon, a dad of two, addressed in The New York Times Motherlode blog. He wrote that, despite long days trying to balance both work and family obligations, quote, "No one, not a single person, has ever called me a working dad. I've never called myself this. The question on the docket is, why not?"

And it's not just the lack of recognition that causes stress. There's new research that suggests that men are experiencing more work-family conflict than women do. We're going to talk about all this with Ken Gordon. He wrote that piece in The Times blog that we just told you about. He's also a manager at the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.

We're also joined by Corey Dade. He's a digital correspondent for NPR and the dad of a daughter. Brian Tessier is an attorney and a single dad by choice of two boys. And, also with us, Kenneth Matos. He is a senior director at the Families and Work Institute. That's a nonprofit and nonpartisan group that studies how the workforce and families are changing.

Welcome, everybody. Thank you all so much for joining us.

KEN GORDON: Thank you.




MARTIN: So, Ken Gordon, I'm going to start with you. I wanted to ask what got you thinking about the piece that you wrote. Is it your view that working dads don't receive as much sympathy or respect as working mothers do and, if so, by whom? In the workplace, by other parents?

GORDON: Well, I'll tell you, the reason why I wrote this was because I was thinking about sort of the language we use to talk about working parents. It seems to lag behind the reality a bit because I thought of myself - I think of myself as a working dad and I realized that no one would ever, in his right mind, call himself a working dad. No one's ever called me that and I wondered why.

And I think the reason is the reality that we're living, that we're really working hard to achieve, both what we're doing at home and on the job, just hasn't been properly named yet and that's really what it is. I mean, it wasn't so much that I felt I wasn't receiving the recognition or that we don't receive the recognition we deserve. It was that there's a whole new sort of way of parenting and it hasn't been named yet, at least not on a massive scale and that's - it seemed a little bit funny to me, so that's what I wanted to talk about in the piece.

MARTIN: Corey Dade, what about you? You know, you are divorced. You share custody of your daughter...

DADE: Right.

MARTIN: ...and put a lot of effort into that relationship. I can vouch for that.

DADE: Right.


MARTIN: But is that - do you feel that that part of your life is invisible at work?

DADE: It is, up until someone asks. How's your daughter, etc.? But, on the main, I have experienced, I know, personally and just in the workplace in previous places where I worked, there is sort of an expectation that as, even if you are a father, you're expected - sort of an unspoken expectation that you're expected to keep your same level of performance at work, that - you know, that it would be the woman colleague who has children who is going to be first to maybe not work as late after hours, maybe not take as many work trips, maybe be the one who wants more flexible hours working from home. And so I think between...

MARTIN: Or scheduling your leave time around school vacations, for example.

DADE: Exactly. All of that. And, from my experience and even many of the fathers I know who have young children, many of us, you know, sort of just suck it up and try to avoid sort of the child care discussions with your bosses and just try as hard as you can to meet the obligations at home and at work.

MARTIN: Brian Tessier, what do you think about that?

TESSIER: You know, I think it's true. You know, I've said before, I mean, it's funny if - you know, and I am a single father, so you know, you talk about working parents and then there's single parents, too. But, you know, if a woman gets a phone call during a meeting and they have to leave, you know, it's almost acceptable or expected, I think. But if a dad says, oh, I got to - you know, I have to go get my kids. My kids are sick. They're kind of looked at very quizzically, like, you know, well, where is your wife? Why isn't someone - why - not even your wife, but why isn't someone else doing this?

And it's a different take on fatherhood. I mean, and it's - I think, you know, the previous person who was speaking - and I'm sorry I missed your name - it's true. I mean, a lot of guys do suck it up, but what I've seen is that men are finally starting to say, you know what? I'm not going to suck it up. You know, I am, you know, active in my child's life. I mean, we have a president that does that now. I mean talk about a working father, you know, there's a good example it's, you know, somebody who does, you know, place that time with his children. But I think more and more men are starting to say hey, you know what? I do it too.

MARTIN: Kenneth Matos, I wanted - we invited you because you co-authored a report last year called "The Male Mystique." And one of the interesting findings that got a lot of attention is that men say they now experience more work-family conflict than women do. Can you shed some light on why they say this? Is it they feel they can't talk about these issues or that they are going to pay a greater price if they address these issues? Talk a little bit more about that, if you would.

MATOS: Well, I think the panel has already started talking about some of the key issues about how we communicate around work-life fit for men and women is different. We also, I want to really point out, that when we say work-life conflict has grown for men, it isn't that they have more work or life responsibilities. It's that they're having a harder time figuring out how to fit the two together. Part of it is a lack of support from the people around them in recognizing that they have these responsibilities. And some of it is figuring out how to put the things together. I think women have had a really strong conversation over the years on trying to figure out some of these solutions and men are just now starting to have those conversations.

MARTIN: So, but again, drilling down on the question, is the source of the stress the fact that - is it that men are expected to spend more time at home and still spend the same amount of time at work and that creates a stress of not knowing exactly whether they're fulfilling anybody's responsibilities or anybody's expectations? Is that why?

MATOS: I believe so. I definitely think that they're experiencing the same thing that women have been experiencing for a really long time, and that's trying to figure out how to please everybody. To make sure their managers and coworkers respect them as employees, but at the same time feel like their spouses, partners and children see them as active and engaged fathers. And they don't have any real role models - until very recently - to help guide that conversation. It's partly the reason why we labeled our report, "The New Male Mystique," which harkens back to "The Feminine Mystique," which is when women were really beginning to figure out what it meant to be both a devoted mother and an engaged employee.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly parenting conversation. We're talking about working dads today. And is that a term that stops you in your tracks, so you're thinking, hmm, what's that? We're talking about the challenges they face in finding work-life balance, even having that need to find balance respected.

I'm joined by researcher Kenneth Matos, that's who was speaking just now. Also with us, fathers: Brian Tessier, Corey Dade and Ken Gordon.

Corey Dade and Ken, I'm going to - Ken Gordon, I'm going to direct this to you because you both partnered in your own way - each in your own way. Do you - when you talk about this, like Ken Gordon, I'll start with you, maybe. When you talk about this with your wife do you feel, does it ever feel like a competition of tears in a way that you're looking for like who has got the greater load? And is that something that you're trying to work around?

GORDON: That happens on our worst days. But the truth of the matter is, you know, we, everybody knows they have to pitch in. I mean we are, my wife and I both realize that there's a lot to be done all the time and it's a little bit stressful, and we know that it's not going to move anybody forward or anything forward for us to see who's the bigger victim. We try to avoid that, I try to avoid that. Hopefully, I'm, yeah.

MARTIN: But do you feel that she has more support, for example, on our worst days do you feel that people just have more respect for what she's going through then they might for you?

GORDON: They understand it more. I think it's more visible. I think I surprised a lot of readers at that The New York Times blog, because they're not used to, you know, fathers talking about what is expected of them and how they feel about that. And so it might take a while before this becomes a little more public and more people can sort of understand and nod their head and go oh, OK, yeah, I get it. Cool.

MARTIN: Corey Dade, what about you?

DADE: Well, I think it gets to sort of the expectations. I think with me when I was married I got my daughter up in the morning. I did her hair. I did her - I made her breakfast. I took her to school. I was very much a hands-on sort of custodial parent, in addition to the contributions of her mother. And I think over time, there has been a sort of oh, kind of a oh, surprise, oh, you're that kind of dad. You know, there's an expectation that I wouldn't be, and I think over time now that I'm divorced and we still obviously share custody, there is still the default. I think as far as support goes, I think the previous speakers are correct, that in my experience too the support system is well-established for women. And for me, I have to say that when I start thinking about ways to solve different problems I have with parenting or child care or whatever, I go to women. I go to my sister. I go to relatives who are women who have figured this out already. A lot of my male friends have not.

MARTIN: Brian Tessier, what about you? You have no choice but to be the one who leaves when somebody is sick. How does that, do you - talk about that, if you would.

TESSIER: You know, I get to be the good cop and the bad cop all the time so, you know, but that's part of, you know, the choice that I made. You know, it's interesting, I, you know, I call it the mom clique, you know, and I think women because they've pioneered so much within, you know, sort of having, trying to have both, they're much more acclimated to also discussing the issues, whereas men had traditionally have not, especially in the workplace and I see that starting to change. So, you know, for me I don't have a choice but to be visible. I can't sort of shrink into the background if my kid is sick, I've got to go do it. So I kind of lead by example and I see, you know, myself with more support from women. But slowly what's happening is the conversation is changing where men are starting to sort of I call it parent in the open, you know, about it. And it's not so much, and I think one of the things that I wanted to address is that it's not that there's dead an expectation that they should be at work or whatever, it's a desire I think to be involved and present with your children and trying to have that. It's more of an internal - I mean that's what I hear from the dads that I work with, it's more of I want to be involved, I want to be there, but I'm trying to figure out how I can balance the two.

MARTIN: You know, Anne-Marie Slaughter, it's interesting. Ken Gordon, you and Anne-Marie Slaughter had an interesting dialogue around each of your pieces. You know, you wrote a piece in response to her piece, and she wrote another piece addressing yours where she actually talked about this whole question of work-life balance as a men's issue too - that was the title of the piece. One of the things she's said though, is that part of the issues that men don't talk about, they choose to or feel they have to not talk about these issues and so, in fact, that their needs and concerns are not surfaced.

But kind of the tone of it in a little bit was like, you know, you kind of get to choose whether to be in the closet or not, right, as a dad.


MARTIN: If I can put it that way.

GORDON: That's true. That's very true.

TESSIER: Totally.

MARTIN: Is that fair?

DADE: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Fair that...


MARTIN: So, you know, you don't want to put on your dad cape and you can choose to put it on or not. So Kenneth Matos, I wanted to ask you though, from a structural standpoint though, is there any data to show whether men do in fact pay any kind of a professional penalty if they put their dad cape on? I mean I think a lot of women will say yes, it's true that perhaps people are more understanding of their parenting responsibilities, but that's where the glass, you know, the glass ceiling kind of kicks in - that the responsibilities get less, the assignments get perhaps less, maybe people don't think of you for the assignment that you would be career enhancing and bring you high visibility because they just assume that you're not going to do it, so they feel that they're paying a professional price that we. Kenneth Matos, is there any data on this?

MATOS: There is a variety of data, and it depends on the context you're talking about. In some places that tend to be in flexible on how they manage work, it can be a real problem with promotions and pay, people who take extended leaves to deal with any kind of family issue definitely reap some losses in terms of pay overtime, whether they be men or women. So a lot of this comes down to whether or not the organization is set up structurally to provide flexibility around the various issues that people need to address in their personal lives, whether they be men or women.

MARTIN: Brian, what about you? I think you, do I have it right that you kind of changed your career trajectory a bit or your...

TESSIER: Yeah. I mean...

MARTIN: ...sort of career direction when you became a dad? And once again, you know, a single dad by choice - the adoptive dad of two boys, right? Yeah?

TESSIER: Yeah, I definitely did. You know, I mean I was a, you know, a family attorney litigator, you know, and when I decided to, you know, pursue fatherhood, which was, you know, really the dream that I had had, you know, it just came down to, you know, all right, I can't really be a litigator and do this and raise a son at the same time. I need sort of the structure of, you know, of a corporation. But, you know, the one thing I've also raised before is that it really is, it's also there's a little bit of industry specifics around it because, you know, I went back into sort of corporate law within financial services, which is very old-school sort of let's call it, You know, Ward and June Cleaver type of mentality. But a lot of the dad, and there was a lot of - I mean I wrote a book called "The Intentional Father" and the last and the last chapter is really, you know, there's the glass ceiling but there's a diaper on it.


TESSIER: You know, you quickly realize that, you know, you got to choose what you want to do. So I mean I made a directional change, you know, in my personal life to choose to go back to corporate law. But even within that context there were things that, you know, I made choices for the benefit of my children, you know, and chose differently. And the guys that I deal with now I tell them that, you will make different choices.

MARTIN: Well, and it also presumes that there are choices to be made. I mean, you know, I often, when we have these conversations I'm often thinking OK, we're all talking about white-collar professionals and we're all clean, safe and warm and dry. Let's talk about, you know, police officers whose leave gets canceled whenever there is a crime wave, who get put on 12 hour shifts. And there are people in all kinds of jobs for whom this choice is in air quotes, "if not at all."

We only have about a minute and a half left so who wants to fix this? Let's fix this thing right now.


MARTIN: What would make it better? Corey Dade, you're laughing. What would make it better?

DADE: What would make it better? I think what I'd like to see personally is employers across the board - this is not about NPR or anywhere else, but employers across the board - continuing their sort of march towards understanding that for example, people don't have to be at work 9 to 5 as a demonstration of their ability to do their jobs. So coming up with embracing more sort of innovative ways to accommodate this kind of balance. So flexible hours, teleworking, that kind of stuff. I would like to see that as just the standard fare.

MARTIN: Ken Gordon, who started this whole thing with your - well, you kind of continue this whole thing with your piece. What would fix this? Thoughts?

GORDON: I think flexibility is the key. My employer, the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, when they found out I had been invited to talk with you all about working dads, they said go for it. My office is about, it's a nonprofit that's about 99 percent female, 98 percent female, and they understand it and they said you go talk - tell them and I appreciate that.

MARTIN: OK. All right. We do too.

Ken Matos, thoughts?

MATOS: Actually, I think they're hitting I really key point with flexibility and having employers look at the way they manage their organizations and the work of their employees to really work with their lives. We do a lot of work with our When Work Works partnered with Sherm to help identify ways in which they can do this and have actually a great number of toolkits and research guides for employers and employees off of our website that they can use to figure out how to get the flexibility that they need.

MARTIN: Ken Matos is a researcher at the Families And Work Institute. He was kind enough to join us from NPR New York. Also with us, Ken Gordon, dad of two. He wrote the piece, "Am I A Working Dad" For the New York Times Motherlode blog. I think the answer is yes. He joined us from a studio in Boston. Brian Tessier is a single dad of two. He was with us on the phone from his office in the Boston area. Corey Dade is a digital correspondent for NPR and the father of one. He was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Dads, thank you all so much.

DADE: Thank you.

GORDON: Thank you.

TESSIER: Thank you.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.