Coming Clean at Work

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Houston Dads Blog{For just two weeks, we are handing over our computers to the men in our lives and turning this little piece of the world wide web into Houston Dads Blog!  Read along with their joys and their struggles, and find out why we are so very thankful to have these awesome dads in our lives.}

I’m going to preempt this post by saying I have an amazing partner in Parenthood. My husband has zero qualms or grumbles about doing anything related to newborns, babies, and toddlers {well, expect fixing hair}. He is not afraid to care for them, to be left alone with them, to plan, execute, and take them on adventures. We went into this as partners, I have a career and he has a career, and we wanted our life to include children. The only way to make that happen is if we are both in this together. Now before I read this blog post he sent to me for editing, I had NEVER thought of a working dad in this way, my mind never really fills with worry about all the Daddy-tracked men out there! I always just thought of myself, climbing the ladder with a pregnant belly, balancing doctors appointments with heels on, crossing my fingers that no spit up lands on my suit jacket, and so very thankful I have a boss who is a mother herself. He opened my eyes a little, funny how that always seems to happen when we stop thinking of ourselves and listen to those around us! So here he goes, my nomination for Dad of the Year!

John Zoo

I won’t even attempt to minimize the monumental love, patience, and energy that mothers, especially the women of this blog, extend to their kids. Women just rock parenting! And not to take away from them, but today I’m focusing on the role of today’s working dad. The role of a working dad has changed drastically from the Mad Men image of the American Family. It sounds silly to identify the working dad as a crusader, but it’s interesting how working parents share the same burdens and joy with different roles and expectations. I am married to a highly educated, successful woman who thrives in her demanding job. I always envy how she gracefully juggles work and family while I, like other men, struggle. It’s time for men to realize that our long standing tradition of separating work and family is an un-needed social stigma from a bygone era.

Early in my career, I was a warrior. Always the one to stay late and put in the time needed. Like most men, I wanted to define myself by my career. I got married, and as my family grew – so did my career. But I found myself struggling with the balance. Child’s doctor’s visits, late mornings, school events fell onto my wife’s plate. I always just wrote it off to: she has an easier time getting off work. In hindsight, it was probably because I never asked. Like many men, I feared being viewed differently from my non parent {or silent parent} co-workers. I was a team player and had no liabilities, a dad by night an employee by day. I had an instinctual need to be a provider which in turn caused me to lay a bigger burden on the other provider in my family and at the same time cheat me out of time with my children.

A recent dinner conversation got me thinking about this even more. A good friend, a very successful good friend, got some advice from a superior with teenage kids, the story doesn’t matter but the message does…

“It wasn’t worth it, I don’t even know my kids.”

As all parents know, we are the ultimate multi-taskers, and this skill is not lost between work and parenting. Men have to strive to maintain this balance. I started to realize that being a parent is part of my identity and not something that must be covered up at work. I fought it, but my kids were just too cute. And I soon wound up being the dad forcing co-workers to look at pictures every week. {Most were willing…} As I opened up with the fact that I do have a family and it’s important to me, the balance began to even and I excelled at both. I began to develop closer relationships with other fathers at the office. Asking my boss for an early afternoon to see my daughter’s dance recital is much easier when your boss has already made fun of you for how much you spent on the tap shoes a few weeks ago. Co-workers without kids often overschedule out of ignorance not malice. One might schedule a Halloween meeting without even realizing the implications on families. It just takes one parent to speak up and gently suggest an alternative.

Who knows, it could cost you something, but as Dr. Seuss said, “Life is a great balancing act.” You have to calibrate your own scales. Likewise, a concern for your family and a willingness to ask off for doctors’ appointments is not a weakness but an action of a stable, dependable, caring person – and thus a better employee. Luckily, I have an employer who realizes this and has high expectations, but purely states family comes first. This is because a family first attitude contributes to a high achieving workplace. Get your work done, get it done right, and get home is a better attitude for all involved. Some men work in very demanding fields, or in jobs that don’t offer the luxury of time off for family, or their situation doesn’t warrant it. But every man should look at himself and ask if he has found a balance that brings him happiness and will make the most of the brief childhood that our kids have. I found I truly became a dad when I found balance and begin extracting an equal amount of joy and attention out of work and family.

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