Mixing work and (child's) play

Fathers are more involved in their children's lives

Fathers are more involved in their children's lives

June 17, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

A generation of diaper-changing, dinner-cooking daddies are redefining what it means to be a father.

Today, Father's Day, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are 63 million dads. But today's dads differ from the fathers of decades ago.

The new batch of dads want to balance work life with family life; they want to be the parent and provider, recent studies suggest.

What the numbers say

Generally, dads nationwide are spending more time with their children - an average of 2.7 hours a day, compared with 1.9 hours in 1977, according to surveys by the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit think tank in New York. The organization has surveyed roughly 3,500 people yearly on work-life and home-life issues since 1977.


Dads are also less likely to be the sole breadwinner, according to U.S. Census data. In 1986, fathers were the sole breadwinners in 24.6 million households - 36 percent of all households. In 2006, fathers were sole breadwinners in 30 percent of households.

In that same time frame, the number of dual-income households increased from 59 percent of all of the family households in 1986 to 65 percent in 2006.

One father's story

Ruth and John Dwyer have been married for seven years, both came from families in which both parents worked. The Dwyers are each dedicated to their careers.

John Dwyer is an attorney whose office is in Northern Virginia. Ruth Dwyer is a pediatrician in Hagerstown.

But when they had Ivan, who is now 16 months old, they couldn't afford for one parent to stop working and tend full time to Ivan at their Hagerstown home.

"That wasn't even an option for us," Ruth Dwyer said. "We both had student loans."

Between the two of them, John Dwyer's job offered more flexibility, so he opted to work from home.

"With two full-time, working parents, something's got to give," said John Dwyer, 44. "You can't have two parents in the office every day, and sometimes on the weekends."

He said that his job offers a work-at-home program, but his employer requires that he enroll Ivan in some form of day care. As a result, Dwyer doesn't get to spend the entire day with Ivan.

But having to work at home while Ivan attends day care is better than his other option: commuting an hour and a half each way to his Northern Virginia office.

"By the time I'd get home, even if he were up, I wouldn't have the brain function to want to play with him," Dwyer said.

Finding time for fatherhood

Now, Dwyer's office is a narrow swath in the family room, partitioned off by the couch. He shares this space with Ivan's toys, the family television and Leslie Ann, the family's yellow Labrador.

While working at home can be distracting at times, Dwyer said it has its advantages.

If he were at the office all day long, he would have missed seeing Ivan go through the "uh oh" phase.

"All kids go through it," Dwyer said. "You know, when they pick up something, like a ball, then drop it and say, 'Uh oh!'"

He also would have missed the day when Ivan graduated to the big-kid slide over at the neighbor's swing set.

Coming home from a long day's work, Dwyer said, he would have to deal with wondering what he missed seeing Ivan do - such as walking and saying his first words, including "ball" and "bubble."

"At this age, he seems to be learning and developing so fast, I would be missing all of this," Dwyer said.

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