What fathers need from bosses, peers and partners to be better parents

More men than ever play an active role in child care. But they're just as likely as women to struggle with balancing home and work.
July 12, 2022

This was first published in The Globe and Mail on Feb. 18, 2016

More men than ever play an active role in child care. But they're just as likely as women to struggle with balancing home and work. Reva Seth asks young fathers what they're doing on the homefront and what they need from their bosses, peers and partners to get it right.

Men need to get competitive about parenting

Name: Awanish (Awi) Sinha

Job: litigation partner at McCarthy Tétrault LLP

Age: 41

Kids: son, 11, daughter, 9

"We need to encourage … healthy competition between guys to have ambitious family goals. If I get on social media and see my buddies have done something amazing with their kids, then frankly I am energized to do more with my family, and it reminds me how satisfying a full life can be.

The 'gamification' of fatherhood is really just a rough way of expressing that the modern male professional can and should be confident about making quality parenting a life priority. I want to be a leader at work but also like being reminded how other guys are being solid contributors at home. Seeing other professional dads show pride in that respect is positive.

When men such as Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, shares his decision to take a two-month paternity leave, it makes being an engaged father a signifier of ambition and accomplishment instead of vulnerability.

I had a business lunch recently and the other person, an executive and a father, was totally engaged talking about his kids' activities. It made me feel free – and even prompted me – to share some hockey dad tales. It was not 'un-business-like' to take an active interest in your family. That's the game theory – to prod each other and normalize family priorities as a healthy part of a professional life."


It's time to make paternity leave mandatory

Name: Mike Moffatt

Age: 38

Job: assistant professor of business, economics and public policy, Ivey Business School

Kids: daughter, 4, son, 11 months

"Much of masculinity is rooted in the ideas of hard work and sacrifice.

Canadian uptake of paternity leave has remained so low because as long as paternity leave remains discretionary, cultural stigma and the threat of financial penalties mean that the majority of men will opt out of using it.

That's why the most successful paternity leave schemes, such as those in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Germany, make it mandatory for men to take a number of weeks' leave – if they don't, their family isn't eligible for the full amount of leave available.

When Quebec introduced a similar scheme, with reserved 'daddy-only' time, participation increased by more than 250 per cent. In 2010, 80 per cent of Quebecois dads were taking paternity leave.

Once the stigma is gone, more follow. When Germany legislated that of a possible 14-month parental leave, two months must be taken by fathers, the percentage of men taking paternity leave went from 3 per cent to more than 20 per cent – in only two years.

A national policy of mandatory paternity leave would change these social norms. It would make men better off by allowing them to spend time with their kids and help close the gender-wage gap by putting men and women on equal footing.

Studies tell us that fathers who take an early hands-on role in their children's lives continue to have a higher rate of engagement as they get older – and their self interest makes them natural workplace champions on this issue.

What's not to love about that?"

We need to meet women in the middle

Name: Dan O'Shaughnessy

Age: 33

Job: life insurance and estate planner

Kids: daughter, 11 months

"If it's a weekday morning and I'm working from home that day but I take some time to play with my daughter – even if I've been working all morning – I can't help think about what my dad or father-in-law would say if they saw me.

I work long hours, but since Etta was born they aren't exactly a normal work day. Recently I have been getting to the office at 7:30 a.m. and coming home at 4 p.m. Any [work] left over, I handle once Etta goes to sleep. My wife is the opposite. She is with Etta in the morning and stays as late as she wants in the evening.

I'll be honest: Before I became a father, I didn't realize how hard it would be on a day-to-day basis to do something different than the norm in terms of how and when I work and the impact I think it could have on my career.

I grew up in Brockville, Ont., and one of my first experiences of equality was rowing at the Brockville Rowing Club. Theirs wasn't a men's and women's team – and it was quite common to train next to the girls all winter before getting back on the water. Nobody really spent much time talking about gender. I thought this was the norm. We won a lot of races and cheered each other on. I never saw this kind of gender equality replicated again.

I feel pressure at times to live up to other people's expectations and constantly have to remind myself that I married a woman who loves working so we have to meet in the middle.

I wouldn't say my life resembles a lot of the men I look up to but I also think my priority is to my immediate family and how that looks depends on us.

I'm hopeful though. This also isn't forever. As our daughter gets more independent, the plan will change to reflect those choices."

We need to equate caregiving with providing

Name: Eric Farache

Age: 44

Job: visual artist

Kids: two daughters, ages 5 and 3

"My partner and I are trying to head toward a 50-50 parenting model but currently I'm still doing far more in terms of dealing directly with the children.

The challenge that I see is that, as a guy, you can be feeling great, proud in fact, to be walking your daughter to school, maybe with the other one being pushed in a stroller or strapped to your chest, but when you cross paths with a man in a slick suit who is getting into an expensive car and heading to a 'job,' something in a guy just shrivels inside.

I don't think this is necessarily anything to do with Mr. Slick but there is something that has been bred within us men to value conventional work and discount any parenting done by fathers – other than five minutes of roughhousing before dinner.

We need to somehow start to see the care of our children as less of this giant awful burden and instead as a fun and an awesome and sacred responsibility.

My wife, Sarah, struggles with phone calls and has the laptop on the go at all times. I don't. I get to have the opportunity to really be there with the girls for simple things – such as making jam or olives or making volcanoes. I feel really privileged to get the time that I do.

The traditional idea of masculinity was about 'providing' and I think this is still essential but the change we have to be open to is shifting to include caregiving as part of providing."

We need to redefine what 'successful' looks like

Name: Michael Carter

Age: 46

Job: co-founder and CEO of Kahuso Inc., a marketplace for interim and part-time executive talent

Kids: daughter, 16, son, 11

"We are on the cusp of a transformative shift in terms of how meaningful, desirable and interesting work happens and with that, a new set of choices in terms of family and care will become possible.

For instance, there are estimates that in just four to five years almost 40 per cent of the American work force will be freelance, contract or consultants – completely shifting the traditional career model. For knowledge workers, it means the ability to build project-based careers that allow for an unprecedented level of control in terms of how and when work happens – making it easier to have both an engaged family life and fulfilling career.

The changing life choices of these influential and powerful men will create the cultural shift we've been waiting for as they establish a new template for what 'successful' work looks like and really push organizations to embrace more flexible and impactful ways of structuring result-driven work.

Kahuso is my second startup and for sure one of the greatest benefits of entrepreneurial life is the control I have over when, where and how I work.

This autonomy means I have the flexibility to adjust my schedule to make sure I'm also getting the kind of time I want with my kids. I don't work any less, that's for sure, just differently and on my own terms."

More men need to be promiscuous about their careers

Name: Jeremy Fish

Age: 30

Job: masters student at the Rotman School of Management and the Munk School of Global Affairs

Kids: none yet

"For me, the engagement question is intrinsically linked to work culture. As a student on the verge of re-entering the work force, I spend a lot of time thinking about cultural fit. I'm committed to working somewhere that encourages men and women to take leave in order to provide care.

I think men in my generation will have an easier time integrating into care roles when it comes to kids. There's a 'cool factor' to being a dad. At the same time, the gender pay gap is narrowing so there will be less pressure in terms of the opportunity cost of taking time off.

We are a generation that's much more promiscuous when it comes to careers, and if we plan accordingly we can take advantage of the transition periods to wade in and out of caregiving roles.

I feel confident we are close to finishing this."

Reva Seth is a senior associate at Canada 2020 and the best-selling author of two non-fiction books, including The MomShift: Women Share Their Stories of Career Success After Children. She has three boys.

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