Balancing Work and Family

The Male Code

Men often have trouble fighting these harsh realities because, deep down, they accept them as reasonable -- even good. Experts say that cutthroat competition is part of a male code that works against caring fathers because it does not allow men to appear weak, especially to each other. "You're pushed from boyhood to win," says Dr. Connor, who often sees male clients passing these values along to their sons in competitive youth sports. "At work, that means guarding information, jockeying for influence, practicing one-upmanship, and not appearing vulnerable by making your conflicts about family obvious." In not sharing concerns, men pretend they don't exist, and even fathers who experience significant work-family tension don't feel justified in asking for flexibility. "Men expect other men to keep contributing, and if you take off time from work, there's a feeling that you owe something," one dad says.

Furthermore, many men have a deeply rooted commitment to being the breadwinner -- even when they have a wife whose earning power equals or surpasses their own. Psychologists say that many men still feel it's ultimately their responsibility to provide for their families. Perhaps that explains why researchers at the University of Washington, in Seattle, recently discovered that instead of working less after the birth of a child, the average man works about 58 hours a year more.

In order to work longer hours and also spend more time with their kids, men cut back on social and leisure activities. And they often sacrifice sleep. Sam Krasnow*, a night-shift supervisor at a New Jersey manufacturer, goes to bed at 6 a.m. and gets up after less than three hours to take his son to school. "It's the only time I see him all day," says Krasnow, who has a two-hour daily commute. "Sometimes I'm so worn out that I kind of stumble through it, but my son needs a father around."

The larger fight for balance continues to be fought every day, often by fathers still nursing their wounds. Tomley, who landed a job at a public-relations firm after being fired from his Dallas marketing job, recently refused to attend a hastily called weekend meeting that conflicted with a Girl Scout camping weekend that he had long promised to attend with his 7-year-old daughter. This time, his boss -- a man with a daughter the same age -- understood. "The meeting turned out to be pretty uneventful, so it didn't matter that I missed it," he says. "I made a choice, and things turned out fine. It was definitely the right decision."

*Names have been changed.

Copyright© 2004. Reprinted with permission from the February 2002 issue of Parents magazine.

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