Juggling Fatherhood and Work Across Generations: A Guest Post From My Dad
First off, a very happy holiday weekend to all my friends and readers. Among the many things I am thankful for- family, friends, health- I am also so grateful for all of your help in making the launch of Fathers, Work and Family a success (3000+ page views, 64 followers, Good Men Project, etc.). While I’m carving the turkey, I’m handing over the reins to the father of FWF, my Dad, Joe Behson. It is my fervent wish that, as we grow older, Nick and I can have a relationship as great as the one my Dad and I share.
Take it away, Dad!
From the Father of Fathers, Work and Family, Joe Behson
Three Generations of the “Behson Boys”!
Have things really changed for dads regarding work and family demands? The answer is yes, and the answer is no.
The first perspective I have to offer is that of a married dad of two young kids in the mid 1970’s. At that time I was eight years out of college and eight years into both my marriage and my career as a therapist working in a variety of NYC juvenile justice settings in NYC while also holding down a part-time weekend counseling gig to save up for and purchase our first house. During that period I was able to complete my masters in Rehabilitation Counseling at NYU, cut the lawn, install a back yard pool & swing set, change many, many diapers, read many, many books, and support my wife as she pursued A.A, B.A. and M.A. degrees part time.
Still it seemed that there was plenty of time to be a loving dad to both of my kids (Dad- I’m exhausted just reading that- whew!). Did everything go smoothly? Certainly not all the time. But being young and in love, and having doggedly clear goals, the obstacles never seemed too hard to overcome.
In the 1980’s, as my kids entered their teenage years, my job responsibilities greatly increased as I assumed positions as facility director of several juvenile justice residential treatment programs. Although I could often set my own work hours, I always had emergency on-call responsibilities, and with that came late night phone calls, some demanding my return to a facility to deal with quite serious staff or resident issues. Still, I was able to make time to manage Little League and Babe Ruth League teams and more often than not guide my various teams to league championships (He’s being modest- thanks to his managing we ALWAYS had fun, everyone played, we all played the right way, and won the championship every single year).
The 1984 Great Kills Little League Majors Champions! (Joe with the awesome ‘stache in back middle, I’m on the front left, holding the bat)
Looking back it seems like this was an awful lot to handle. But that was what I believed was expected from “good fathers”. (Along the way I learned a lot about myself and that I had a “gift” in working with kids, not only professionally, with troubled delinquents, but also in a coaching role with peers of my own children.) I played a bit of golf (not too well) and a bit more of tennis with my buddies and that also helped me to balance things a bit. Another positive was that both my and my wife’s extended families lived nearby and we were able to do family things on a regular basis.
Several important sociological changes have taken place over the past 30 years that impact the dads of today. I know and admire quite a few of these young men and appreciate the challenges they face. Among these are:
There are many less locally-located extended families than decades ago. Workers move where the jobs are and they do so quite often
Society’s acknowledgement of a woman’s equal right to employment access and career advancement, crowding out formerly traditional male opportunities
The awareness that fathers can and should have a key role in their children’s overall development
The fact that the definition of family includes variations that were barely thought of thirty or forty years ago
Many employers expect/demand long working hours, limited vacations, and 24 hour electronic connections to the workplace
Helicopter parents expect their children will have a full menu of academic and social activities in order to “compete” in life
Proliferation of part time rather than full time employment for those starting out after either HS or college
The challenge to working dads to achieve a work-family balance has changed considerably over my lifetime. Today’s challenges still call for fathers to weigh carefully their children’s development, their own emotional and physical well being, and obligations to their employers. I believe that employers who understand these issues will retain more motivated and fulfilled employees. Those who do not may see more of a revolving door and wonder why.
Thanks, Dad! Part of my professional interest in fatherhood issues is that I learned from the best.
Have great Thanksgiving holiday, and I’ll see you all next week!
How do you feel about the changing expectations of fatherhood through the past two generations? Let’s discuss in the comments.