The Daddy Track

For reasons I've never understood, someone always seems to be maligning The Mommy Track--that lower paid, slow-motion career progression some professional moms (like me) choose in exchange for more time with their kids. I happen to think The Mommy Track is pretty nifty. At least a few dads seem to be catching on, too, if this blog is representative.

"I've changed my career to support not just the raising of my three girls, but also to support my wife's career. My choices -- an unconventional path -- have actually enabled my professional and personal growth. If you are willing to take risks, pretty cool things happen." -- M., San Francisco, 42 years old, father of 3 girls under 12

Good point, M. I agree totally.

"I am an attorney. I made a conscious choice to work in a smaller firm where I make about half of what I could in a big-firm setting. But I don't work crazy hours -- no weekends, gone by six most nights. I don't regret the decision at all." - Brian, 32, St. Louis, father of 4 year old and expecting a baby

Bravo, Brian. Working weekends is the worst -- basically impossible if you have more than one child with weekend activities.

"I gave up a lucrative executive position to spend more time with my two young children. Colleagues thought I was crazy. But I have no remorse. I have a very fulfilling 9-5 job and know that I have the talent to go back to a job like my old one in the future when my kids get older. I have the best career in the world -- being a dad." - Anonymous, dad to two young children under 5

I love you, Anonymous.

"My new employer is six miles from home. I will be able to drop off and pick up kids from private school and still be on time at work. The pay cut is money well spent to be closer to home and my children. My wife will now have more time to concentrate on her job and more than make up the difference." -- Joe, 39, Virginia, two kids ages 5 and 1

Maybe things are changing. Will our culture disparage The Daddy Track, too? Or praise it to high heaven because men are now dignifying the compromises women make for kids? Can you come roaring back from the Mommy -- and Daddy -- track?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  March 31, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Dads
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It's no mystery to me why Dads are choosing family over money. Ever since we've been yanked out of the bars and shoved into the birthing room we've figured out what's really important. The doctors even made me help out with the epidural. When a man witnesses the miricle of life, he will never be the same again. I don't consider a man who changes his job to spend more time with his family a "sacrifice" or even a "compromise". It's merely a step up into a better life.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 31, 2006 7:54 AM

I wonder if "roaring back" onto the fast track is something that people actually want after enjoying a job that stays at work and a family life that is fulfilling. Why go back to having a job as a mistress to your family when you realize you can "make it" on the lower money (in some cases) and still enjoy the spouse you chose to spend your life with and the childhoods you get to witness only once?

Posted by: MayasMama | March 31, 2006 7:57 AM

My former boss arranged a one-month paternity leave for the birth of his first child as a condition of employment. Everyone who worked for him thought it was wonderful. He was available once a day to the managers in the department by phone to check in and would check his email once in the morning and once at night. The attorneys and many of the other senior administrative staff made snide comments along the lines of "must be nice" when told he wasn't immediately available. Three years later, he did the same thing for the arrival of his second child. Same comments. I never heard anyone say anything about women taking maternity leave and doing similar things, but that's probably because they wouldn't dare, especially in a law firm!

I think that younger generations in particular are simply unwilling to work the ridiculous hours demanded by the corporate environment. It doesn't matter if you're male or female. And even more so now, in the age of technology that makes us always available, many people are going to be drawing a new line in the sand about where the work stops and family time starts.

Posted by: Snap2 | March 31, 2006 8:39 AM

Personally, I love the fact that men are starting to have choices, too. The women's movement gave me the choice to stay home or get a job; why shouldn't my husband have the same choice? Leslie's entry on sick time last week, about the peer pressure her husband faced (years ago) not to take time off, really made me sad.

I think this movement toward a "daddy track" has probably been spurred by a number of factors. The whole "employment contract" idea from the '50s -- "work for us for 40 years and we'll take care of you" has been shot to pieces; people are legitimately starting to question why they should devote themselves solely to their job if in return for their loyalty they can be laid off with no notice, lose their pension and medical benefits, etc.

In addition, I think the fact that so many mothers now hold jobs outside the home has forced a lot of fathers to do more than their fathers were ever asked to, just out of sheer necessity. And a lot of those moms who lived through the women's movement tried hard to raise sons who expected do their fair share of childcare and household chores -- and a lot of women like me, who grew up with moms like that, expected that of our husbands. And it also seems like a fair number of people grew up with somewhat absent fathers -- good men who were fulfilling the role that was expected of them at the time, but who were physically gone a lot and emotionally a little more distant -- and want more for themselves and their kids.

So a lot of today's dads, I think, grew up expecting to spend more time with their families, and wanting that very much. Others maybe find themselves doing more than they expected to, but then find that they really enjoy it and are good at it. So when you weigh that against the questionable benefits you get from slavishly devoting yourself to your career, I think a lot of men are starting to draw a line in the sand.

I am truly impressed by a lot of the men I know in my life, and hear on this blog. Expectations are so different now. When I was in kindergarten, one of the books we read was "Boys Are, Girls Are" -- "Boys are doctors, girls are nurses. Boys fix thing, girls need things fixed." The roles were pretty clearly defined, so even if they didn't fit exactly, you knew what you were "supposed" to do. Nowadays, women as a gender have a lot more choice than we used to -- we can choose to stay home or work outside the home (yes, I know this doesn't apply to a lot of people -- my mom was a single mom, you don't need to tell me. But I'm talking as a gender here). Men, on the other hand, are still expected to hold down a full-time career -- AND manage sick days and Little League and grocery shopping on top of that. The general expectation nowadays seems to be that a dad has to be a "superdad," like moms were (and to some degree still are) expected to me "supermoms." And a lot of them are really stepping up to the plate and delivering on all fronts.

I realize I am speaking in generalities here. Yes, moms of all stripes still face a lot of unachievable expectations; there are stereotypes that apply to both SAHMs and WOHMs; moms and dads don't always agree on each other's relative contributions; etc. But when you look at how much expectations have changed for men over the past generation, I am truly impressed by the number of dads who are meeting these new challenges -- challenges that a lot of them didn't necessarily expect while growing up, and for whom they have few to no role models. I hope that as more dads demand appropriate family time, we can change those "superdad" expectations into valid, legitimate choices like many moms have.

Posted by: Laura | March 31, 2006 10:17 AM

Stating the obvious to the choir ....dull, dull, dull!

Posted by: Diane | March 31, 2006 10:23 AM

I think Laura makes a very interesting observation - since workers usually can no longer depend on a company for longterm security, folks feel a little more leverage in making these decisions that put family life before work. My husband gets 2 months paid parental leave, and will be taking all of it.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 31, 2006 10:59 AM

Wow, snap2's former boss was lucky...I had to save up six weeks of leave to stay at home when my daughter was born. Luckily my company, and especially my immediate co-workers, are in favor of working to live rather than living to work. I leave at the same time every day and don't work evenings or weekends. My wife does, but she makes almost twice as much as I do. We try to alternate sick days at home, but I do have more flexibility to take days off. I'd stay at home, but I still make significantly more than we pay for day care, lawn service, and maid service, so we've decided to both keep working.

Posted by: The Cosmic Avenger | March 31, 2006 11:02 AM

"Maybe things ARE changing"? Not to discount what these gentlemen have done, but of all the posters that this blog has generated, FOUR (that she mentioned) have taken the Daddy Track. I know that there are many more men that have taken the Daddy Track. But a) why are men who take the Daddy Track held up more on a pedestal than women who take the Mommy Track; b)shouldn't she have mentioned that instead of making it seem like these four men led her to the conclusion that times were a-changin ? This is the 21st century. This shouldn't be a "maybe" anymore. This should be decided just like anything else - who wants to take this kind of career track. There is no "right" person as long as it's someone who cares about your child.

Posted by: Future working mom | March 31, 2006 11:08 AM

This is my favorite blog topic for the week. Thanks to Ms. Steiner for the examples of involved, happy fathers. It reminds me of something Ursula LeGuin said when she was asked how she managed to rear three children and also write so many novels: she said that one person couldn’t do two jobs, but that two people could do three jobs. Which was a roundabout way of saying she couldn’t have done it without her husband.

It’s hard to imagine anyone (except maybe radical members of the “child-free” movement) bad-mouthing the daddy track. No one seems to say anything nasty about fathers for choosing to work, choosing to scale back their professional ambitions in order to spend time with their children, or choosing to be at home with their children during the day. I’m holding out hope that the same civility and tolerance will soon be extended to mothers, too.

When people summon up nostalgia for the middle-class 1950s model of American life (which, as someone pointed out the other day, might more accurately be viewed as a brief social experiment than a “tradition”), they often make -- mistakenly, I believe -- a connection between set gender roles and a slower-paced, more family-centered mode of living. I see no reason why we couldn’t try to revive the latter without insisting on the former. One kind thing I could say about the much-maligned figure of Mr. Cleaver is that he was reliably home in time for dinner. (And he didn’t have to promise to check his e-mail at night in return for the privilege of leaving the office at a reasonable hour.) I think part of the pressure parents face today is that the requirements of full-time professional work have metastasized since then. We need to get them back under control.

Thanks to all the dads, and moms, who resist feeding their entire lives to what Ruth Conniff, in an editorial for The Progressive, calls the Work Monster.

Posted by: Gloria | March 31, 2006 11:17 AM

As for the question "why are men who take the Daddy Track held up more on a pedestal than women who take the Mommy Track?"- since most women were on the "mommy track" since the beginning until the recent feminist movement, you either have people who simply think, "Of course, this is the way it's supposed to be." or you have people who think those on the "mommy track" are wasting precious potential or expecting the rest of society to support their mindless existence (which is ridiculous). Even so, in my experience, mothers receive ten times more honor on average than fathers do anyway (even considering the fact that fathers who do a great job get parades.) Simply compare the sales from Mother's Day and Father's Day. No comparison. However, I am happy to hear that some are getting their priorities straight (i.e. family comes before mammon) considering the fact that some of them have to deal with women who expect them to be wealth-producing machines. I hope this trend continues though, and, if it does, Father's Day might someday be able to hold a candle to Mother's Day (if we dream hard enough, right?)

Posted by: DCP | March 31, 2006 12:21 PM

It's nobody's business how a law-abiding person chooses to lead their life.

Posted by: Diane | March 31, 2006 12:21 PM

As a single working woman I do not have problems with people making the choice to go on a mommy or daddy track at work. I do have the following problems with the mommy track as it was applied at one large corporation where I worked.

1. Every woman was automatically put on the mommy track. I was single, no children and had never given any indication that I was going to have any. However, it was very hard, as a woman, to get into challenging positions that would lead somewhere in the company as every woman was seen as a potential child bearer. I've noticed this mentality universally, when I see an article that rates the best companies for women, it talks about childcare benefits and maternity leave - these articles never discuss opportunities for advancement for women or job mentoring.
2. Women who were mothers at this company were automatically put into mommy track jobs even when they were willing and able to work long hours (such as women who had stay at home daddys). The mommy track jobs did not enable them to learn new skills so, of course, when large layoffs came in the computer industry, they were the ones who couldn't find new jobs at comparable pay.

Again, I support people who have children. It's important that, as a society, we come up with flexible working arrangements so that mothers and fathers have time to care for their children. I just find it very annoying that many times, women are seen as only wanting mommy track jobs.

Posted by: kephart | March 31, 2006 12:59 PM

My neighbor, who works full-time, constantly complains about her husband unwillingness to seek employment. After Father-Daughter bowling, the husband and i were sipping beer in front of the George Mason game and he explained it to me:
"I've avoided it for 6 months now and tomorrow I'll have to go out and slay the dragon.. But the good news is that its a temp job and it's only funded for 6 weeks. Sometimes its nice to remind myself how the other half lives."
He's got the golf clubs in the trunk, and takes his daughter to school on a Harley, comes home and takes a nap, plays on the internet on rainy days, and for being such a hard-working SAHD during his unemployment, Friday nights are Hooters nights. He tells me if he makes too much money, his wife will pester him for a bigger house. Now thats what I call "Making it work"

You are just flat out wrong on this one.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 31, 2006 1:21 PM

Please excuse the last sentence on the last post "You are just flat out wrong on this one" it was originally meant to be a response from the previous post that read "Its nobody's business...", I didn't really want to send it, but it was too late after I hit the Submit button.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 31, 2006 1:30 PM

I also think the population boom (Boomers) and subsequent bust (Gen X) plays into this. Those of us who are in Gen X have an advantage over the boomers because there are simply fewer well-trained employees available. Therefore employers are forced to accept that a) this is a generation that openly distrusts their employers, b) there aren't as many of them available to work in the first place, and c) family is important to both fathers and mothers.

My husband took twelve weeks of paternity leave when our son was born. He is out the door every day by 5:30 at the latest. We live 8 minutes from his work. He's the one who is more likely to take off time from work if our son is sick.

However, he put his time in and he's respected for the quality of his work, so I don't think it's being held against him now. I wouldn't say he's moved into the Daddy Track; in fact, he just got promoted. But, I think that if he hadn't established himself first that wouldn't have happened.

Posted by: Catherine | March 31, 2006 1:33 PM

Lower paid (?). Are you joking? Let me know how many other women on the "mommy track" (or the "daddy track" for that matter) are featured bloggers on major newspaper websites and featured on national TV shows. Please.

Posted by: Anonomizer | March 31, 2006 2:03 PM

Liked Catherine's comment. Much of it may be generational. Since we have so little job security and so little expectation of such security, it behooves us to do what we want and to set our own goals and priorities accordingly. If those don't fit well with the those of the company that employs us, then yes we may be let go - but who's to say we wouldn't have been let go anyway?

If I'm a contractor and can be fired at a week's notice after five years if they decide they no longer need me, who are they to get huffy when I decide I no longer need them? They take their decisions without regard to me and my needs; why shouldn't I do the same? it's the new workplace logic - unfortunate, but there it is.

Posted by: Bogota SAHD | March 31, 2006 2:23 PM

Catherine, you are so right. I noticed that the three dads whose ages were given in the story were 42, 32 and 39 - looks like GenX to me.

Posted by: Kid Free in Alexandria | March 31, 2006 2:33 PM

Good point, Bogota SAHD. The funny thing is that for the pre-Boomer generation, the ones who devoted their whole lives to one company and retired with a gold watch and a pension, “nine to five” generally counted as a full day’s work, not a lighter-than-average load. So it’s not as though we’ve traded security for more leisure time. In many cases, we’re being given (or have settled for) less of either.

Kephart brings up another good point; it isn’t fair for companies to put all women on a “mommy track,” regardless of their preferences, or even whether or not they’re mommies. If more fathers get on a “daddy track,” it may prevent those companies from making incorrect assumptions about who is and is not aspiring to a chief-officer position.

Nor is it fair for them to try to get childless workers to, as some childless workers put it, “pick up the slack” (though why leaving the office at five o’clock is considered slacking is beyond me). It would be great to get more childless workers on board, here, too, as I’m sure many of them have their own family obligations and private lives to attend to. I suspect that the corporate world is not going to collapse simply because they go home after an eight-hour day. In Alan Lakein’s book “How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life,” he tells the story of an overworked accountant who stayed late at the office night after night. The accountant kept pleading with his boss to hire him an assistant so he could wrap up his work earlier, but his boss never did. Finally he couldn’t take it anymore and quit, and the boss hired a new accountant. The new accountant also found the workload too heavy for one person, but instead of staying late every night, he simply left some of the work undone. The boss hired him an assistant.

So, the daddy track is great as an expansion of the mommy track, but maybe we should expand it even further. The Everybody Just Go Home Already track?

Posted by: Gloria | March 31, 2006 3:28 PM

"Maybe things are changing. Will our culture disparage The Daddy Track, too? Or praise it to high heaven because men are now dignifying the compromises women make for kids? Can you come roaring back from the Mommy -- and Daddy -- track?"

People do come roaring back but I think there is a statute of limitations. We both parent-tracked it for our first child and it worked very well for us. I am happy to give my husband all the credit in the world for coaching baseball and basketball, for being the one who'd stay up all night with a sick kid and for always being home in time for an early dinner.

He roared back big-time from that daddy-track. My work was also moving forward faster than I had ever anticipated. So I had my chance to come back from the mommy-track.

It was also my last chance to have a second child. I took the kid and, over time, gave up trying to do everything. I'm fine with it.

If you're going to do the share-the-load, parent-track job thingy -- my advice is to have no more than two kids and have them boom-boom, preferably twins.

Posted by: pta mom | March 31, 2006 3:58 PM

Gloria, yes, we child-free and (and -less)workers have our own family and personal lives, which do take up time. Thank you for mentioning that - it often gets lost in the shuffle.

I check in here because I get a kick out of listening to parents whining about how bad they have it, and knowing that they would consider me to be the ultimate slacker: My husband and I have no children and jobs where we get to leave every day at 5:00. Amazingly, between us we also manage to pull down the median household income for the DC area! So we don't sacrifice time or money! Life is great!

Posted by: Kid Free in Alexandria | March 31, 2006 4:10 PM

Just have to chime in. My husband is amazing and an incredible father. We both work full-time, but he is a 100 percent involved dad. I pick the kids up from day care/pre-school twice a week. He does 3 days. He also does the majority of the cleaning, while I like to do the cooking and laundry. The best thing our kids are getting is a happy, loving couple who put their kids, family, marriage first--event though we work full-time! We team on most everything so much so that our 4-year-old often says "mommydaddy" cause we are almost always around together or sharing kid duties. They see us as "one" entity, and it feels great.

Posted by: 21704 mom | March 31, 2006 4:31 PM

Gloria asked: (though why leaving the office at five o’clock is considered slacking is beyond me)?

Because in certain companies, particularly those driven by client needs, assignments and work comes up late in the afternoon that needs to be completed that same night. So, to the extent that something needs to be turned around later in the day and/or cannot be done from home (think: can you bring home all those documents, books, etc you need to complete that assignment?), the people in the office are the one who "pick up the slack." As much as the corporate world won't fall apart if people work less hours, sometimes things do come up that require immediate attention. That said, I am childless and don't feel resentment towards my coworkers on that score. Probably because they (and the boss) actually acknowledge that I am able to assist when they cannot. If I actually had to explain the implications to my boss/coworkers, I might feel differently.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 31, 2006 4:41 PM

“As much as the corporate world won't fall apart if people work less hours, sometimes things do come up that require immediate attention.”
True enough. Some industries have their own rhythms that aren’t in sync with the majority of the business world (health care comes to mind). And all companies have unexpected problems that crop up from time to time, in spite of everyone’s best efforts. Some companies, though, seem to create their own states of perpetual crisis -- say, by bidding on projects they don’t have the manpower to complete. Then they mobilize the troops by saying how important this project is, how important everyone’s contributions are, how we all need to pull together in this time of (yet another) crisis. That’s what I don’t buy.

Kid Free, I like your attitude towards life (if not so much towards parents). At the moment there’s not a lot of social cachet attached to leisure time, but maybe in the future there will be. Instead of bragging “I work 70 hours a week” (meaning “I’m so important my company can’t do without my presence for a moment”), maybe people will start bragging “I work 35 hours a week” (meaning “I’m so efficient and highly skilled my company cut me a deal”).

Posted by: Gloria | March 31, 2006 9:01 PM

After a career in the military, I loved being "Mr. Mom," and the kids did too. Unfortunately, my wife (who had, by choice, worked infrequently during my military time) discovered how hard it was to be the primary bread winner. After supporting her for 14 years, she found she didn't want to support me during 2yrs of graduate school and left me, taking the kids. Some people can't handle it I guess.

Posted by: Charles | March 31, 2006 9:03 PM

Just a bit out of date comment.

I worked for a Defence subcontractor (roughly 1995-2005) and we had one "Mr. Mom" consutant. His wife mad more than him, and with 3 kids (at least, thats all I saw him bring), one of them needed to stay home. He negotiated a consulting postion with our company, and could be called any Friday (and would often come in during schooldays).

There were pleny of comments about how "he couldn't get away with it without his lumberjack looks". I also suspect that only his direct supervisor (Senior Master Chief retired, blah, blah, blah, E9, God's own voice in tha Navy) could question his manliness. I don't think he ever did.

While Navy base careers are problably the last place one should look for non-traditionalism, I think I can make the following judgements: Daddy tracks are avaiable, but you have to work hard to find them, then to use them. I can't imagine anyone ever making the jump from Daddy track to fast track: one pegs you in the "touchy feely" group; the other is for alpha males only.

Finally, my best friend (36, easily X-gen) has three kids. His wife stays at home, and he seems to stay as close to 40 hours as a sysadmin (who works for government) can. This seems like mana from Heaven (with the exception of having to renegotiate _everything_ every time a recompete comes up). I suggest that anyone thinking of *ever* having kids should start plainning a career route that allows for raising them. God help you if you let the TV do it for you.


Posted by: Wumpus | March 31, 2006 11:14 PM

I think it's probably time to bag the terms 'mommy track' and 'daddy track' . . . I think the language systems we create are powerful tools for enhancing understanding and dialogue; but there is a time to let them go when they begin to overly dictate how we understand an issue that is obviously changing.

Where a mother and father are present (clearly a single parent needs to be understood differently), the dialogue needs to be centered on the partnership, rethinking what it is to love, to serve each other, to make life work and thrive in this new context (children!). I think a lot of the tension is a resuult of forcing models onto situations that don't work by definition.

Take romance: I think of times my spouse is feeling the most affirmed, cared for/about and then affectionate towards me. Want to guess? Forget flowers, poetry, candles, etc. . . . . try her getting home and finding the kids fed, read to, homework done, bathed and in bed; kitchen spotless, garbage out, bed linens changed . . . and me saying 'hello, love, sorry you had to work late, here's a glass of wine, let me get you something to eat . . . '

I think the constant vying for who has a right to one thing or another versus the other partner is fruitless and just breeds tension or worse. If you each live life in a spirit of giving and generosity, you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

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