Fathering and Employment
"The most important...work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes."-Harold B. Lee
OverviewTrying to deal with the trials of balancing employment and fathering is a challenge many fathers struggle with in today's busy world. A father's career is very important to him for several reasons. Primarily, it is the means by which he provides for his family. "Paid employment is an important arena for father's generative work...[and is] a central way that fathers contribute to their children's well-being" (Dollahite, Hawkins, & Brotherson, 1997, p. 22; see also Allen & Connor, 1997). A father's career also serves as a source of personal challenge and self worth. But careers place many demands upon a father's limited resources, such as time and energy. The struggle to find a delicate balance between the spheres of one's employment and family is one that is always underway.
StoriesThe stories in this section illustrate the importance of Stewardship work in caring for the family's growth and survival. The following experience relates one father's perspective on the importance of providing for his family.
"Seven years ago I was in a partnership in construction and it went sour. The company got into a bad situation and, without going into a lot of detail, the bottom line is that I left. All I had known was construction for five or six years, since I'd been home from my mission [for his church]. I didn't know anything else, and construction was gone. There were no homes beingbuilt, no job opportunities, and I'd soured on it from what happened. Basically what ended up happening is that I ended up losing a home from it, was unemployed and didn't have money. I learned from my family that they are survivors. You face situations. Nothing is ever critical. There's always a tomorrow. You're not going to die, etc. Yes, it might be important or a sticky situation, but you'll face it and tomorrow you'll go on. For the first time in my life, I didn't feel like there was a tomorrow. I had no money. I had bill collectors coming to the door. When it really got to me was when I realized that I didn't have enough money to buy a loaf of bread to feed my wife and my one child at the time. When you are put into situations like that, you lose all self confidence and all feelings of self worth. You're just devastated and you really feel like you're not worth anything.It was at that time when we realized that we didn't have enough money to buy a loaf of bread that my father could sense that something was wrong. They didn't know how bad it was and they didn't know what the situation really was, but they just showed up with some groceries. They acted as if "We don't know what you need, but we have some extra and here it is." It's probably one of the few times that I've cried in front of my father."
It is because of the importance of providing for their families that many fathers struggle with sacrificing time away from their children and wives in order to support them. "For many men...working hard to provide for their families is the primary way they express interest in their children's lives (Hawkins, 1993, p.49; see also Allen & Connor, 1997). One father shares this experience:
"In 1985, I came out of the Army since I was passed over, and had to restart my law practice. So we came to Provo and started the law practice, and my needs overrode everything. . . It hasn't been until about a year and a half ago that we switched the law practice and went back into the military because of an opportunity I had. It's given me more time to come back and develop ties with Jeremy. I think he got shortchanged in that process of having this very demanding private practice, in which we were trying to make enough income to support us. I think Jeremy just flat got shortchanged. He's been there and always done the right things. He is a good son and I can trust him to do the right thing, but I haven't spent a lot of time with him. So, it's very difficult. I really think my private practice overshadowed making some issues important. . . I can see me sacrificing for [the] private practice more than I can for Jeremy, and that's really an unfortunate comment on the economics of the times."
Michael Lamb (Parke, 1996, p.51) explains that there are three types of interaction that fathers have with children. Fathers directly interact with their children, are available for interaction, and care for their children's needs through taking responsibility. Although a father might think that he is not directly involved with his chilren when he is working outside of the home, it is involvement. A son describes the sacrifice that his father made to support his family:
"My dad had seven children and a job that didn't pay all that much, and so he was repairing and restringing bows, working in the Navy Reserve, etc... I remember him having three or four different jobs at one point, in which he would do something. But he needed that, you know, he really did. It wasn't easy for him keeping the family fed. So, he had to spend a lot of time. He recognized this and he sent us to college, and paid our tuition for those of us that didn't have scholarships. He gave us a stipend every month to live so we wouldn't have to work, so that we could study, so that we could get out and get good jobs. It really boggled my mind when I graduated with my master's degree and found out that my starting salary was about equivalent to what my dad was earning right then, and it's doubled since then. He really had to struggle hard."
Employment can sometimes interfere with father involvement in the home if it is not handled appropriately (Hawkins & Dollhhite, 1997; Gerson, 1997; Deinhart & Daly, 1997). In spite of the challenges, many fathers have found novel ways to make more time for their families. The following are stories of how different fathers are creating more time to spend with their families:
*"Just wanting to spend time with your kids is not enough. You've got to be creative and make time for them. For example, instead of taking the hospital shuttle bus from St. Luke's hospital in 113th street to our apartment on 37th street, I started jogging home through Central Park. By combining my exercises with my travel time home, I created new time for my family. . . As a resident in the hospital there are times when I'm away from home several days at a time. In that case we have to go to extra lengths to share activities. We will do anything just to be together. We've even had a BBQ on the roof of a hospital in the middle of Harlem. I may have just come from treating the casualties of the drug war, but seeing my family immediately transports me into a unique and loving world. . .While the other residents talk about getting out the orthopedic books as soon as they get home, I get out the legos and play with Brandon. In Manhattan you have to be right with your children all the time. You can't trust them to even cross the street alone. So I've developed into Brandon's major playmate. Because of this I always try to say "Yes" when he asks me to play. Even if I have to be going somewhere in fifteen minutes, I will say "Yes" and play. I don't want him to hear me say "No" too often."
*"My basic belief over the years has been to take the kids with me whenever I could. Because I have been self-employed much of my career or I've had lenient bosses, I've been able to share a lot of wonderful experiences with them. . . If I had to work at night at a newspaper as a writer, I took them and their color crayons so they could play at my desk and color pictures. If I was doing seminars, I took them on overnight trips so we could go sight-seeing together when I wasn't teaching. If I was working at a TV station or with the media, I'd try to get them involved with some aspect of the work from stuffing envelopes, to being on camera, etc. so that we could spend time coming to and going from work. . . I also always made them a priority when I was home so that I never missed ball games and wrestling matches and track meets, and school plays."
Often fathers have specific experiences that make them re-evaluate their balance of work or school and family.
*"Last month I felt in my gut what happens when you don't put family first. My son Steven had his first ever swim meet. He loves to compete and show off for Dad. I know he was counting on me being there. As the hour approached, I had a little last minute research request at work and I opted to complete the request before I left. As a result, I ended up leaving just a few minutes later than I had planned. Well, the wind storm made the commute home just a little longer than usual, and I arrived just in time to see Steven getting out of the water after his very first race. I missed it! It is an experience that can never be recreated! When he's an Olympic swimmer I'll never be able to say I saw his first competitive race. And I missed so I could finish an unimportant task at work. The really ironic thing is that the next day we ended up not even needing the research I had done. I learned very clearly that my place at that moment in time was at the pool with my son, not at the office with my computer! I vow not to miss other important firsts in my son's life."
Sometimes there are situations where work schedules and circumstances are not very accommodating of father's desires to nurture their families. In these types of situations, it is often necessary for the father to sacrifice promotions and praise at work in order to spend the time they would like with their families. Griswold (1997) cites a study finding that in 1991, 74% of fathers would rather have a "daddy-track" job rather than a "fast-track" job, and 48% actually reduced their work load or passed up promotions which enabled them to spend more time with their children (p. 85). The 1991 Gallup poll, as cited by Snarey, (1993, p. 37) showed that a majority of men gain greater satisfaction from caring for their family than from a job well done at work. The following stories illustrate this point.
"One thing that has happened to me is that for two or three years I was under really heavy pressure at work. For a while I was working for a particularly demanding boss and I was putting in a lot of hours. I had to make a conscious decision that I was willing to give up a certain amount of attention and recognition at work in order to spend more time at home. I had to decide that I wasn't willing to work twelve hour days over long periods of time and give up that time with my children. I had to make a conscious decision that I wanted the time now to be with my children. I think that what I was just saying about my work was a decision I had to make."
"In 1991 I started working at a start-up computer software company in the evenings and on Saturdays. That continued through the end of 1992, when I left the company, and it became harder and harder for Dana [his wife] to deal with my not being there. I eventually had to leave because it was so hard on our family. She felt like she wasn't getting the support that she needed at the time, and I wasn't there very much because of trying to make the business go. That was a very difficult time and it got to the point where my continued involvement was causing a lot of problems, so I eventually left as a result of that....I know that our family life is the most important thing and it's good to know that I had my priorities straight....It was a defining experience."
Every family and employment situation is different, and fathers need to use good judgement in making sure that their family is cared for. Gerson (1997) recognized this when she stated: " A man need not give up a high-powered career in a demanding profession to become an [involved] parent...Regardless of his occupation, however, he needs sufficient flexibility and autonomy at work to create the time and space for [generative] parenting" (p. 47).
*Stories used with permission from Jeff Hill, editor of DAD/S
ConclusionFatherWork encompasses a man's stewardship to provide for and nurture his family. While a father's occupation may serve as a source of challenge and self-worth, the primary purpose of his employment must not be forgotten -- a father works to provide for his family. The purpose of a father's job is to ensure his family's survival and by so doing open the windows of opportunity for loving, nurturing relationships to flourish. Simply put, though a father's job may be a means of financial support, his career should always be his family, and often the balancing of time and resources between one's family and one's employment is a struggle. Much as a successful business company wisely manages its resources, so must a generative father wisely manage his time, energy, and commitment between his job and his family. Fathers, as you invest your time, energy, and love into building and strengthening your family you will find that being esteemed and "promoted" in the eyes of your children is far more rewarding than the fleeting glory and praise obtained by your labors in the workforce.More metaphors about fathering
Learning and Application ActivitiesPlease complete one of the following: