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Does Dad Care About Work/Life Balance?

Vivia Chen

June 17, 2011

Father On Mother's Day, we celebrate all the wonderful things mom does--like making sure the juice box is in the lunch bag, baking that incredible Winnie-the-Pooh cake, and being the perky class mom--even when she's exhausted by her day job as a lawyer.

On Father's Day, we celebrate him for just showing up.

Outdated stereotypes? Yes, according to a newly released study of 250 fathers (mostly professionals) by A Better Balance, a group that advocates for better work/life balance in the workplace. Here are its key findings:

• A majority of the professional fathers say that balancing work and family causes "frequent" stress. Nearly 85 percent feel pressure to be both provider and engaged parent.

• Almost seven out of ten fathers say they'd like flexible work arrangements.

• 85 percent say they'd take advantage of family-friendly work policies, if senior leaders would set the example, or if they see other male colleagues do so without negative repercussions. Also, fathers say that "having a supportive manager and workplace culture" made a bigger difference than having formal work/life balance policies.

• A "significant" minority report negative treatment and disapproval at work when the father has to take time for family responsibilities.

Many of the male lawyers I know do feel the tension between work and family. But here's the big question: What are they doing about it? 

One lawyer, Gary Phelan, tells me he's changed his whole career to spend more time with his three daughters. He says his divorce over a year ago caused him to reexamine his life: "I realized that I had always put work first. It was always about productivity and billable hours, and it caused resentment [in my marriage]. . . You can't have your career be the driving force. I had been ostensibly successful, but there's a price."

A board member of A Better Balance, Phelan says he left a "premier plaintiffs firm [Outten Golden]" in New York for Connecticut to be closer to his daughters. He is now special counsel with Cohen and Wolf in Westport, where he works about 50 hours a week (he says he used to work 70-80 hours). "People were shocked that I'd make a move like this, but working women have been doing [the juggle of home and work] for years," he says.

I have a feeling that few men will follow Phelan's lead. More common is for male lawyers to say they're sympathetic to work/life balance issues than to drastically change their ways.

Such is the case with Marshall Gilinsky, a litigator with Anderson Kill & Olick. Though his wife is on the board of A Better Balance (she's also a former lawyer with Winston & Strawn who now works as a consultant to nonprofits), he admits, "My wife bears more responsibility [at home]." The arrangement, he says, is largely dictated by the realities of being a lawyer: "Life's hard, and if you're a litigator and you have to go to trial, your family has to understand that you might not be there."

So where does this leave us? Dorian Denburg, the president of National Association of Women Lawyers, says she feels men care increasingly about balance "because it affects their wives and grown daughters." An in-house counsel at AT&T, Denburg says she's noticed more men taking time off during the day to attend their kids' soccer games and swim meets. "Years ago, they'd just take off, but now they talk about it."

So we've progressed from the days of Father Knows Best. But is taking time off occasionally for a sporting event or a recital really a sign that male lawyers are putting work/life balance on the front burner?

Let's just say I'm skeptical.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected]

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With the economy as it is I think men are doing what they have to do to take care of their family. And from what I've seen in my personal life most seem to get caught up in what's going on in their work place and sadly, their family time comes second to their jobs.

I think one of the biggest problems is that the average work week for professional Americans is NOT what it was back in the days of "Father Knows Best." Back then, hours were more consistently 9-5 and commute times were shorter. It wasn't often that people were required to work 60 or 80 hours in a work week, so father's COULD come home every evening and spend time with their children in addition to being the provider they were expected to be.

Dod.aeton, I was thinking about your post. It's great that your wife is home with the kids and that you provide for them.
However, everything I've ever seen on the subject (magazine articles, advice columns) indicates that children need caring, nurturing, supportive parents more than they need material things. Providing the necessities and money for college is good, but an expensive lifestyle is not necessary. I hope your children get to see you too, at least often enough so they'll recognize you. :-)
I grew up in a fairly large house in a suburb-like neighborhood and I hated the isolation of that lifestyle. Now I live in a 3-room apartment in the inner city where I can hear and see my neighbors. Much better!

Ohhh Vivia.... I was "skeptical" when I read the title of this piece.

For an instant, I thought: "Nah, she's not going to bash men... not over/on/about father's day."

But, we are creatures of habit.

Demands in the workplace--so long as it is an equal workplace--are placed on lawyers, regardless of into which gender they were born.

Bosses seldom care about your family life, and even whether you have kids or not...

For me, the choice is present... ever day... provide, or be there, and don't provide.

And, if my wife was the lawyer, and not the one at home, she would be making the same choices.

All that said, can you please, please, please write something that (if you are going to deal with the male gender), does not reek of disdain for those of us that have a penis?

Seriously, we're people too; and, whether you are "skeptical" or not, matters little... we D O care about our families.

And, part of caring for our families entails P R O V I D I N G the resources which facilitate a life that, includes eating, and sleeping under a roof each night.

Candidly, I grew-up, in an inner-city, single-parent household, as a latch-key kid once I was old enough... I know what it is i like to have wondered if the place I sleep one night, will be the place I sleep the next night... or the one after that...

Simply put, P R O V I D I N G is caring. If you don't P R O V I D E, you might have more time with your kids; but, better have someone (or the government) providing for them... and you.

P.S. - My primary care doctor has married and had children since I've known her. She cut her hours - I think it's 9-2 now - and she takes her kids to school before and picks them up after. She works with a group of physicians who make sure everything is covered for time off, vacations and such. It's no big deal, Ken. I admire her competence as both a doctor and a person.

One of the reasons I decided not to have one of those demanding careers is the stress, pressure, working 24/7... I don't want to live like that. In fact, I'm pretty sure I couldn't handle it if I tried.
I don't have kids. Maybe a good approach would be for people to have kids only if they're willing to arrange their lives so they can be engaged parents. If they can't do that, make sure the children have other people in their lives to provide the care, role models, etc.
To me it seems that many people have kids because it's expected by society and the people around them instead of because they want to be engaged parents for their kids.
My $0.02, hope it helps

Work life balance is nice, buts its not the top priority for most men. And the cost to your career is too high if you take significant time off. Again its about trade-offs and making choices.

When clients all agree that they'd rather lose their case (or in doctor's cases, die) so that their vendors can play with their kids, then they'll be true work life balance. Until that day...

Or just work for insurance companies (or HMOs).

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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