Due to the weather, some customers may experience late delivery of The Roanoke Times. We apologize for the delay.
Creating that elusive family-work balance is a challenge, but one these 21st-century fathers welcome.
DON PETERSEN | The Roanoke Times
Chip Donahue enjoys a weekday canoe ride with Finnan, Isabelle and Parker at Loch Haven Lake in Roanoke County.
DON PETERSEN | Special to The Roanoke Times
Now that school is out, Chip Donahue, an elementary school teacher, is home to take care of his kids (from left), Isabelle, 12, Finnan, 6, and Parker, 11. Donahue and his wife, Ashley, founded Kids in the Valley, Adventuring, an outdoors-focused family group that works to connect children and parents with nature.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Today we bring you a special edition of Dadline for Father’s Day.
At the end of a long day at the office, I like to go home, loosen the tie, put my feet up, light my pipe, pat the (silent) children on their heads and read the evening paper as my wife emerges from the kitchen and greets me with a peck on the cheek and a scotch on the rocks.
The life of a working father can be so hard on a man!
OK, so this scene of domestic tranquility is a fabrication. For one thing, I don’t wear a tie to work. And the last evening paper went to the great recycling bin in the sky 20 years ago.
Life of the domesticated dad has changed measurably since the days of Ward Cleaver.
A day at home follows a pattern more like this: There is no pattern.
Some evenings, I get home and make dinner for my wife and daughter. Then somebody has to take the kid to gymnastics, go to the grocery store, drop off items at the library or all of the above. Somebody has to fold the laundry, clean the litterbox and mow the yard.
In the morning, one parent helps the kid get ready for school while the other (often me) makes breakfast and lunch.
This is no knock on my own father, who is a great guy, but I don’t remember him making my lunch for me before school. Or helping me with my homework. Or taking me to sleepovers.
My dad was, and still is, a farmer who worked long days and ended the evening reclined in front of the television.
Much has been written about how American family life has changed over the past couple of generations. Almost all of these books and articles have looked at the changes from the perspective of mothers, who stress out over trying to find a balance between working full-time and raising a family.
Little has been written, however, about how dads are coping with these same work-and-family issues. Speaking as a 21st-century dad with a young child and a wife and a full-time job, finding the proper family-and-work balance is tough for us guys, too.
Fathers today are working longer hours all while spending more time with their kids than did the dads of previous generations. Some men are chucking their careers to stay home with the kids while mom becomes the chief bread winner.
When I was a kid, the guys who didn’t work and who never left the house were not called stay-at-home dads. They were called deadbeats.
Today, though, some dads would rather fry the bacon than bring it home.
Shifting careers for kids
Michael Hemphill, a longtime friend and a former co-worker, chucked a career as a prize-winning federal courts reporter for The Roanoke Times after his first daughter was born in 2000. Eventually, he stayed at home with three daughters while his wife, the estimable Dr. Julia Hemphill, worked as a family physician in eastern Montgomery County.
“It was important to us that one of us stay at home and raise our children,” he told me this week. “Career-wise, I felt I’d have options to do various things outside the newspaper world. Julia studied years and years to become a family doctor, so she did not have the opportunity to stay at home. Income-wise, it made more sense for me to stay at home.”
For several years, he handled most of the cooking and housework, although he admitted that cleaning house was not his strong suit (“There’s some work to be done on that front,” he said). However, he also worked from home.
He and a friend ran a small business that took people on tours of Civil War battlefields. He oversaw a nonprofit group that helped develop a library, YMCA and community center in Shawsville. He co- wrote a kids book with Tom Angleberger (another friend and former co-worker of mine who’s now known for his “Origami Yoda” series of books) and he worked briefly at Radford University.
Now, Hemphill works full time as the marketing and development director at the newly re-opened Science Museum of Western Virginia. His daughters attend school in Roanoke, so Hemphill is able to take them to school and pick them up.
Now that he and his wife are both working full time, the couple has had to make some “modifications” to their schedules, he said.
He has no regrets about leaving his earlier career as a reporter to stay at home with his kids.
“Guys are missing out if they don’t consider spending more time with their children if they have the chance,” he said.
Adventurers & more
Chip Donahue and his wife, Ashley, are like many couples who divide the child-rearing schedule. During the school year, Ashley, a real estate agent who owns her own company, takes care of the youngest kids in the mornings, then Chip, an elementary school teacher, takes over in the afternoons.
“Sometimes in the evenings we intermingle,” Chip said.
Now that schools are closed for summer break, Chip Donahue is home to take care of their three kids, which means taking them outdoors a lot. Five years ago, the Donahues founded Kids in the Valley, Adventuring , an outdoors-focused family group that works to connect children and parents with nature.
Donahue, 40, wrote a paper about the changing role of fatherhood while working on a master’s degree at the University of Virginia six years ago. During his research, he found that today’s fathers are much more involved in the children’s daily lives.
“A hundred years ago, kids were virtually ignored and didn’t speak unless spoken to,” he said. “Dads had to go away to work every day, and when they came home, they were the windows to the world. They reported everything that they saw happening in the world.”
By the 1950s, fathers became the “adventure leaders in the family,” spending their limited time with their children doing exciting things such as camping or coaching ball teams, but helping little around the house. That role changed as more women entered the workforce and couples needed extra income just to pay the bills.
“The major difference now is that everybody has a lot more responsibility,” Donahue said during a telephone interview. He washed dishes as he talked.
“Men are learning to multi task,” he said. “With women, that’s ingrained.”
A lengthy article in this month’s Esquire magazine finally takes up for the guys.
Headlined “Why Men Still Can’t Have It All” (a reference to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s wildly popular 2012 Atlantic monthly essay, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”), the article turns the tables on the familiar image of the frazzled working mother trying to balance career and family life, replacing it with the image of the frazzled working dad trying to do the same thing.
The provocative article cites myriad data to show that, despite the stereotype of the workaholic dad who has no time for family, today’s men are doing the best they can to be good fathers, husbands and employees.
A researcher quoted in the article cited a Department of Labor study from 2008 that found that 60 percent of dads from two-income households said they were experiencing conflict between work and home lives, compared to 47 percent of women.
“[D]ecades of conventional wisdom — men secure and confident in the workplace, women somewhat less so — [was] crumbling away as more and more fathers began to invest more of their time and energy into their home lives,” Richard Dorment, the article’s author, wrote.
Today’s dads spend triple the amount of time with kids than fathers did in 1965, the article states.
Hmmm. When I think of some of the guys I know, I wonder if that is such a good thing.
“The jury is still out on that,” Hemphill said.
Still, even as dads embrace more responsibilities at home and on the job, we understand that expectations are fairly low for us.
“Women are still under the pressure that, if they stay at home to raise the family, the children must turn out perfect,” Hemphill said. “That’s an unfair expectation. But if a guy stays at home with the children, he gets a pat on the back just if the kids have clothes on. The clothes don’t even have to match. If the child is just dressed, people will say, ‘Oh man, he’s doing such a great job!’ ”
That makes me a great dad, because not once have I put a naked child on a school bus.
Not perfect, but not bad
I am not a perfect dad. I can cook a little and I know how to operate the washing machine, although it takes me about five days to get the clean clothes folded (which I do incorrectly, I am frequently told).
My daughter gets a lot of peanut butter sandwiches and too few vegetables in her lunch box. My philosophy toward house cleaning is that what is clean today will just get dirty again tomorrow, so why not just put it off?
But I am trying to do better, as are a lot of other dads out there. If all goes well, I should get the hang of this work-family balance thing right about the time my daughter goes off to college.
Happy Father’s Day, fellow hard-working dads!
Weather JournalNew batch of moisture for PM