'Daddy Wars': Fathers Strike Back

ByJEN BROWN via via logo

March 8, 2006 — -- Todd Findley couldn't talk the first time he was called to be interviewed for this story. 

At 11:30 Tuesday morning, he had just picked up sons Sean, 5, and Stewart, 4, from nursery school, strapped them into their car seats in the back of the minivan along with their 1-year-old brother, Austin, and was driving the kids back home for lunch.

Three hours later -- the laundry folded, the dishes washed, and the remote control back to a usable state (Austin is going through a "puking phase" right now) -- Findley was free to discuss the issue he had with the "Mommy Wars" segment on "Good Morning America" that day, during which working moms and workers without children debated fairness at the office.

"Society generally sees these things as mom issues, and they get addressed as mom issues," Findley said without a trace of bitterness. "I'm hearing moms this, moms that.  Well, there are dads out there doing it too."

Findley is among a small but growing number of stay-at-home dads, and one of many men -- and women -- asking, "What about the 'Daddy Wars?'"

Attitudes about the traditional roles of men and women when it comes to working and raising children are changing. As they do, men are actually experiencing more anxiety about balancing work and family than women, according to recent studies.

In 2002, the Families and Work Institute reported that while women felt about the same level of frustration when it came to balancing work and life over the last 25 years, men's frustration sharply rose -- from 34 percent of men in dual-earning couples reporting a conflict in 1977 to 54 percent in 2002.

"It's probably because their [men's] roles are newer," said Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute. "They're less likely to have role models. When women first started working, they felt like they were pioneers and now I think you're seeing that feeling among men."

The institute also found that Generation X fathers spent significantly more time with their children than baby-boomer dads, and that overall, the amount of time men spent with their children each workday had increased by 1.2 hours since 1977 while the amount women spent with their children had remained the same.

Galinsky gives speeches about work-life balance issues in communities and at companies, and said she had noticed more and more men in attendance, men struggling to break out of traditional roles.

"I don't think the corporate world recognizes fathers as having a valid responsibility as far as the upbringing of your children," said Trent Locke, 46, a mechanic in Huntington Beach, Calif. "It's not typically perceived as a male role. I think that's completely wrong. I absolutely take pride in watching my son grow and be there for every activity I can."

Locke quit his job and started his own business when his boss asked him to choose between his work and his family. He now shares in the responsibilities and pleasures of raising his 9-year-old son with his wife, who also works.

Locke said that if he was not his own boss, it would be harder to raise his child because society accepts that women need flexibility to raise children, but it's not the same for men.

Dale Obracay, chief executive officer of USA Movie Works, agrees. He said men and women got different responses from their employers and co-workers when they asked for time off to take care of family.

"I think that women are going to get more of a professional response and men are going to get more a smart-a-- remark," Obracay said. "Guys get, 'What do you mean you have to pick up the kids?' Women are not getting abuses, socially, by their peers."

Galinsky has observed similar behavior.

"Fathers get treated as heroes if they ask for time off for their kids, but if they ask a lot then it changes," she said. "Asking a couple of times is heroic. Asking a lot of times is pushing it too far."

Obracay, a divorced father of two, said men in his situation faced additional complications when balancing work and family. If he misses a weekend with his children because of a work obligation, he may not see them for a month.

In this day and age, not all children of divorced parents live with mom.

There were 2.3 million single fathers in 2005, up from 393,000 in 1970, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Among single parents living with their children, 18 percent are men. These men face struggles similar to those of single moms.

Dave Brozovich, of Milwaukee, Wis., has had full custody of his daughter for five years. He said his career growth and income had suffered as a result of parenting.

"Many employers and managers, male and female, do not understand this type of commitment," Brozovich said via e-mail. "It has cost me jobs. I have other friends that are in similar situations that are struggling in the job market and careers."

As for Findley -- who chose to leave his job as a high school teacher to raise his children because his wife, Melanee, earned more as a computer programmer -- he wonders how his career will be affected when he returns to the work force.

"One of the classes I taught in high school was a career-planning class, and when I talked about writing resumes, I always said one of the big no-nos is a big gap between jobs," Findley said.

"I'm guessing when women go back to work, saying 'I took time off to raise the kids' is an acceptable answer. I'm not sure if that's acceptable for a man. That's something I'm probably going to find out in the next five to 10 years and I'm nervous."

"When it comes to workplace issues, I can still relate to that. For how long I can relate to that, I don't know," he added. "I think it's just a pretty much unknown, unresearched area."

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