Early last year, a mid-level manager for a large microelectronics company faced a dilemma. He had long before promised his wife and children that he'd go to a special evening church service that his spouse had helped organize. Then, a few weeks before the event, his boss told him that a major client had scheduled a meeting halfway across the country for that same night. Torn between the two choices, the man agonized over what to do.
After much deliberation, he decided to go out on a limb. He told his boss he wouldn't be available on that night and asked if the client meeting could be rescheduled. His boss said no. "After that, I wasn't called upon to give input into matters involving that customer," he says. "I was able to be with my family that night, but I believe it hurt me careerwise."
Dilemmas like this are the everyday stuff of fatherhood today -- and they tear men up inside, though their struggle often doesn't show. Should you work late to meet a deadline or get home in time to see your kids? Accept a late-night business call or continue helping your son with homework? Network with colleagues at a weekend conference or go to your daughter's soccer game? Whatever choice a man makes threatens to leave someone -- his boss, his child, his wife -- unhappy. "I feel like I'm constantly disappointing my family and people at work," the mid-level manager says, "because I'm not doing justice to either."
Mothers, of course, have been saying the same thing for years. But increasingly, men are admitting to angst about the competing demands of work and family. According to a recent study by the Families and Work Institute (FWI), a New York City research organization, 70 percent of men say strains on family life are an issue for them -- compared to 60 percent five years earlier. But because the "daddy dilemma" is so rarely acknowledged, men who make decisions favoring their family over their job make a louder statement than women who do, and potentially suffer more harm to their career. "When companies -- and even employees -- talk about the family-friendly workplace, it's often assumed that the beneficiaries are working mothers," says James Levine, Ph.D., director of FWI's Fatherhood Project and author of Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family (Harcourt Brace, 1998). "People are just beginning to understand that dads want flexibility from their employers too."
As things stand, "a lot of fathers feel they are in an almost impossible situation," says Michael Connor, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at California State University, Long Beach, who studies the ways fathers balance professional and personal commitments. "There just aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done, so very few men today feel in control of their lives."