My dad was what you’d call a company man; he worked as a chemist for a major pharmaceutical company for 35 years until he retired in 1997, avid to spend time with his first grandchild and the six others who would later follow. My dad’s job didn’t offer much flexibility in terms of dress code or hours, except in the summer when employees could take advantage of casual dress and flex time. So when summer rolled around, my dad rose an hour early to get to the office by six in order to leave every Friday at noon. When we were young, my parents would often pack my three sisters and me into the car and we’d drive two hours to the beach, just in time to hit the ocean and eat a picnic dinner on the cooling sand while the sun set. Some Fridays, my dad spent in his vegetable garden, which by mid-summer overflowed with cucumbers and corn and tomatoes that my sisters and I would sell from a blue wheelbarrow on the curb in front of the house. As we grew older, my mom started a business – a daycare center – and my dad spent his Friday afternoons there, watching the little kids on the playground (or rather, letting them crawl all over him since so few had dads at home) or sweeping the floors or washing the toys to help my mom.
My dad isn’t particularly cutting edge (in fact, he and my mom still have a hard time wrapping their head around the fact that people, including their own daughter can work productively from home) and he would never have insisted that his employer provide flex time benefits. But neither did he turn them down when offered, notwithstanding that he could have hewed to his regular schedule and slept an hour late or spent those Friday afternoons leisurely finishing up a week’s work instead of cramming it into a tighter schedule.
When we speak of work-life balance, or the seamless life as I’ve taken to calling it, it’s dads who get short-shrift. Yet in many ways, they have it harder. For not only must men advocate for more flexibility which calls into question commitment to work (a dilemma that women also encounter), but in doing so, they must also buck the traditional social image of the man as the driven, work-centric provider. Yet until more men start shouldering their portion of the work-life balance conundrum, it will remain, by default a women’s issue, thus diminishing the chance for real change.
Many of the men I know who’ve gone solo have done so to spend time with family, to make sure that they don’t miss the ballgames and school plays; to imprint those memories of beach trips and vegetable gardens. Others have left successful careers at other legal positions for the flexibility of solo practice so that their wives have more flexibility to pursue their careers careers. Yet in all these cases, like my dad, these men have taken a different path purposely, but also silently and without fanfare – but believe me, those efforts haven’t been overlooked. Happy Fathers’ Day to all of you!