Work-life manager Betty Purkey wasn’t sure whether the dads at Texas Instruments would go to a seminar on juggling work and home. So she sent out an e-mail feeler.
In 24 hours, more than 100 fathers said they’d be interested - the biggest response to a seminar Purkey had ever seen. Later, nearly 120 men tried to sign up for the 70 slots at the session near the company’s Dallas headquarters.
“Work-family has been viewed as a women’s issue and a lot of the pull has come from women,” Purkey said. “But now I’m seeing that fathers are saying, ‘It’s not just for women, I need this too.”’
For years, men have been increasingly involved with their children, both because they’ve needed to - with working wives or as single dads - and because they’ve wanted to. Yet fatherhood mostly remains a closet issue in the workplace.
Fearful of hurting their careers, men often don’t openly announce that they’re leaving early for a school play. They mumble something about a meeting, and run for the door. When babies are born, many take vacation days, not paternity leave, so they’ll look devoted.
“Sometimes you lie. They don’t want to hear that you have a life outside work,” said Metin Agar, who works in New York city for a major hotel chain and is the father of a 9-year-old stepson.
“Sometimes when my wife isn’t around, I have to pick my son up from school or take him to karate,” Agar said. He said his bosses think, “Why doesn’t (his) wife do it? It’s very tough.”
Yet men are beginning to speak out. And a few companies are listening, with initiatives that go far beyond the quick nod the nation gives to dads on Father’s Day.
Chase Manhattan Bank kicked off a fatherhood program with a series of seminars this month. Marriott has piloted a fatherhood program, and it was so popular that workers came in on their days off to participate. A smattering of companies are trying to get more men to take advantage of existing work-life benefits.
“For the first time in a serious way, companies are beginning to think about where men are fitting into their work-family programs,” said James Levine, a leading thinker on fatherhood and co-author of the book “Working Fathers,” published this month by Addison-Wesley.
One rainy day recently, 27 men from Chase wolfed down sandwiches and sodas as they waited for Levine to tell them about “Daddy Stress.” Few talked. Some looked visibly uncomfortable.
“We’ve got a different father in the workplace,” he told the men, who ranged from vice presidents to loan officers. “We want to know our kids.”
As a result, men are feeling the work-family pinch as much as women, Levine told them, citing a Families and Work Institute study that found nearly 60 percent of working parents felt significant conflict between work and home - regardless of gender or socioeconomic background.
“Yet we don’t hear about this from fathers,” Levine said as some nodded their heads. “There’s a don’t ask, don’t tell policy among men.”
That’s partly because work-family has until recently been a “woman’s thing” - an issue championed by women for women, who were after all the traditional caregivers even while bringing home more of the bacon. Research on the impact of parental work on children, for instance, largely has been focused on the mother’s job - or father’s loss of a job.
“A lot of the (company) literature is directed toward moms,” contended Anthony Fitzgerald, a second vice president in marketing for Chase. “It’s not in bold, but it’s ‘dad’ in parentheses.”
Bill Liberis, a vice president in check and commercial loans, added that he had just found out that Chase offers five different kinds of flexible work - from telecommuting to job-sharing and a compressed work week.
Combating the view that men aren’t included is one reason why Chase launched its fatherhood program, said Christine Fossaceca, manager of work-life programs at the New York-based bank. Along with seminars, the program will include computer database and library materials for dads.
AT&T; and accountants Ernst & Young have tried to reach out in more subtle ways: by depicting more men in promotional videos and literature for work-life programs.
Yet an even more insidious obstacle remains to men’s participation: fear.
Men are scared, often justifiably, that their careers will be hurt if they make their families a priority. While that’s a reality for women too, men have felt more unwilling to take a risk because often they earn more than their spouse.
“Work is supposed to be the first priority, and even if you make it first among equals and make hard decisions, people think you’re slacking off,” said Liberis, the father of a 12-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a toddler.
After he was asked to join a focus group on workplace flexibility, Liberis said his first reaction was to wonder whether he had a reputation as a slacker.
Such fears remain deep-seated. Yet now married women who work full time earn an average of 41 percent of family income - easing men’s burden as the breadwinner. And men like Liberis are deciding they want to live differently than their fathers.
To Levine, helping fathers juggle their work and family lives is the only way to help all workers find more balance - and thus ensure a better future for children.
“Women have been fighting this work-family battle with half an army,” he said. “You can’t pay attention to just one piece of the puzzle.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: DETAILS ON DADS 91 percent of fathers with children under age 18 are employed, compared with 67 percent of working mothers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 26 percent of men with children under 13 say they would sacrifice career advancement for more flexible work arrangements, and another 7 percent say they might do so, according to the Families and Work Institute.
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