Working Fathers: Changing the Definition of What's "Dadly"

employee retention; celebrating dad; working dad and happy father's day

I was chatting with a friend from college when we began catching up about some of our old classmates.

"What's Bob up to?" I asked.

"He's a stay at home dad."

I was momentarily taken aback. Wasn't this the same ultra-smart finance guy we knew back in the day - the one who was grabbed by a big firm right out of college?

And then it hit me!

OMG...I'm a sexist! And I suspect I'm not alone.

The New Working Fathers

Fathers are often derided for making dad a full-time job. And it's time we changed that because dads have changed, too.

The number of stay-at-home dads has doubled since 1989, according to the Pew Research Center, up to two million in 2012. And the number of men who want to be fully involved as parents has also increased, says a new report from the Boston College Center for Work & Family.

Working fathers today are a lot more than their "Wait 'til Your Father Gets Home" 50s-sitcom-era predecessors. And many told our Modern Family Index that they're just as worried as moms that family responsibilities could impact their careers.

Stuck in Stereotypes

The view from the HR suite reflects that. Bright Horizons Chief Human Resources Officer Dan Henry wrote not long ago in a Huffington Post blog that he sees more and more dads who want to leave a home legacy as much as or more than a work legacy. And policies like flex time at Bright Horizons are dispensed equally among both men and women.

But Dan conceded that how dads are perceived needs to change, too. The idea of dad as primary caregiver, he wrote, is "still pretty fringe, often written off as unmanly. Society may have professed enlightenment back in the 1960s, but we're still pretty safely pigeonholed in our stereotypical roles."

Support for Working Fathers and Mothers

Look...I'm not a bonehead. I know there are more women angling to stoke careers than there are men who want to give them up. And it's clear we've got a longer way to go in the equality department when it comes to women in the boardroom than men in the nursery.

As a working mom myself, I'm familiar with the challenges and roadblocks that go with the designation. And I know that when we're talking about balancing child care with work, the unspoken subtext is often "women's issue." And that's in serious need of revision.

But our view of what's accepted as "dadly" needs to change, too.

Striving for Genuine Equality

So amid all the important conversations about supportive work environments for women, it's also important to remember that we have to be equally enlightened about men; that to wholly support the women who want to pursue careers outside the home, we have to be equally open to the men who don't. Because if we're looking for a more balanced society where women are free to pursue the careers they deserve, who we do think is going to help?

"I'm 'leaning in' as much as the next woman and my husband is a good daddy," wrote one mom on a Boston blog. "But society as a whole doesn't allow him to help me." That means we've all got some adjusting to do.

As Dan put it, "For women to truly be able to equitably pursue their ambitions, and for men to be able to support them, we're going to have to give career women and their devoted-father counterparts the unequivocal stamp of approval that recognizes, 'These activities are not hobbies they are parts of who I am.'"

And, he added, "as the people who hire them, we're going to have to support these choices men taking paternity leaves, women given the top jobs without any raised eyebrows."

Starting a New Conversation

I personally am going to start by calling that long-ago classmate of mine and saying...bravo.

Because a wholly equal society provides room for priorities based on who you are - not who society wants you to be.

So to all you hard-working fathers out there (including my own husband), from all of us at Bright Horizons - thanks...and Happy Father's Day.

Bright Horizons supports working fathers and working mothers and is proud to have been named for the 9th time as one of Boston Business Journal's Best Places to Work for 2015. 

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.