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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

Today’s Father: On the Job, at Home and at Work

Fathers in today’s America appear to be “caring, committed and conflicted,” the Center for Work and Family at Jesuit-run Boston College reported June 15.

The report, “The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted,” found these 21st-century men struggling “to be engaged parents, while striving for advancement in their careers,” thus raising “the obvious question, Can they have it all?”

The survey report said that fathers “want to have more time to be with their children, and they aspire to do more at home. At the same time, they have equally strong desires to be successful at work.” They are “willing to invest a lot of time and effort into their work,” and career advancement means a lot to them.

No wonder the report described fathers as “conflicted.”

Changing Roles of Men and Women

Actually, there is “a disconnect” at this point in time “between what fathers believe they should be doing in terms of sharing caregiving and what they are doing,” the survey found. While this suggests that a conversation between employers and fathers needs to continue, it may suggest that a conversation is needed on other fronts too.

Society still expects men and fathers to fulfill traditional workplace roles, the report indicated. “It appears that it is still expected that fathers will have a stay-at-home or part-time working spouse who will be available to meet most or all of the family’s caregiving needs,” it said.

But the rapidly expanding presence of women in workplace careers has large implications for home life, including children’s care. One reason fathers roles are changing is that mothers roles are changing, the report makes clear. Most fathers who completed the survey had “working wives/partners,” the report explained.

In the workplace, “many companies recognize the shifts that are occurring in terms of the needs of working fathers,” but “there is still much to be done to adapt to and fully recognize fathers’ increased role as caregivers,” according to the report.

What Fathers Want

Among its workplace-related observations, the report said:

— “Job security was rated as the most important job characteristic by fathers.” This may “suggest that companies that still try to maintain job security … are likely addressing the value that fathers care most deeply about.”

— The need most frequently cited by fathers “was for greater flexibility” in work arrangements and work hours. But “fathers tend to use flexible work arrangements in a predominantly informal way,” which “may have strong implications for employers who spend a great deal of time and effort focusing on formal flexibility programs and approaches.”

— “It is important that employers take proactive measures to encourage conversations among men about issues such as parenting and work-life balance.”

The new survey represents the second phase of research on fatherhood by the Center for Work and Family. A year ago the center released a report titled “The New Dad,” reflecting the findings of interviews with 33 new fathers in dual-career homes, conducted over a year-long period as part of a “qualitative study.” I discussed “The New Dad” on this website July 9, 2010.

The fathers in this new survey were white collar employees in large corporations, working for the most part as salaried professionals or managers. The report noted that “any research study” has limitations and that the survey’s restriction to white-collar employees might be viewed as such. Still, the survey results “have important and relevant implications for fathers and the organizations in which they work,” the report said.

Not Only a Women’s Issue

The survey findings confirm that “balancing work and family is not just a woman’s issue,” said Brad Harrington, executive director of the Center for Work and Family. He added, “We see that fathers, too, need a family-supportive work environment when it comes to aligning work and family, and this has tangible benefits for their jobs and careers, and in turn for their organizations.”

In their fatherhood role, more and more men today are not the sole “financial breadwinner” in a home, and they “are taking on a larger and more diverse role in parenting and caregiving,” the survey report said.

In light of this, the expectations fathers have “for their work environments are changing.” The report commented that “fathers want their companies to better support their needs, and employers are working to adjust to these new expectations.”