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Suited for Fatherhood

Many choices face dads balancing family and work.

Kristi Elliott

Tribune Media Services

February 4, 2010

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Growing up, you might have thought your father's parenting philosophy was something like, "Pipe down or I'll turn this car around!"

These days, more working dads seem to live by the adage, "You can always get a new job, but you can't get a new family." Busy fathers put in long hours at the office and work just as hard to make quality time at home. Sometimes, though, something just has to give. What's a dad to do?

"It is tough to ask a father to make a family-work, ultimatum-like decision," says Ken Wisnefski, founder of New Jersey-based WeibMax.com. "On one hand, you can say, 'nothing comes before my family.' But a lot of my family's welfare is contingent on the success of my business.

"On the other, you can say, 'I need to take care of business to take care of my family.' But you may miss your kid's first steps, first drawing, first words, etc. - you can't get those moments back."

Different Ways to Deal

Some fathers choose to compartmentalize as much as possible.

"For the most part, work stays at work," says Jim Garringer, director of media relations at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. "It is not much for the family if dad gets home and immediately gets out the cell phone or camps out behind the computer. If I have to work late, I work late - and there are some late nights and/or Saturdays. But once I come home, I am home."

Others don't mind multitasking as long as they feel fully present in both roles.

"Here I am at my kid's game, talking on my cell phone, but I don't feel guilty about it," says Elliott Baretz director of business development for SWC Technology Partners in Oak Brook, Ill. "I'm in constant touch with what's going on in the office. My iPhone keeps me connected, so there's no anxiety. Does that mean I instantly respond to every e-mail? No, but I can if and when I need to. Do I make a habit of working at night after the kids are in bed? No, but if I have a good idea and want to noodle on it, I certainly do so."

One thing that seems non-negotiable for dads these days is being home for the dinner hour. "I try to be home for dinner every night," says Ryan Burns, a father of two in Bellingham, Wash. "After dinner I spend time reading to and playing with my kids until they go to bed. During that time I don't work, get on the computer or anything else. They get all my attention during that hour."

Ken Rye, Atlanta-based merchandising marketing manager at The Home Depot, agrees.

"I stay extremely focused while at my job, put in long hours as needed, but make sure that I try to get home to spend time with my son at a reasonable hour," he says. "By the time I get in some learning, exercise, and quality time with him, I have to dedicate some additional hours working at home after he goes to bed."

When Work Gets it

Whichever parenting style you choose to follow, there's bound to be a wrench thrown into the plan every once in a while.

Working in a place that understands that things can come up with the family is a big help. "I think being a dad enables me to be a better boss from an employee-relations perspective," Wisnefski, a father of two, says. "For instance, I had an employee whose son was not in good health. He missed a lot of work. From a boss's perspective, it was disappointing; I hired him to perform a job that he was not efficiently addressing. Yet, when I took a step back and thought about my son, Alec, needing me in that capacity, I would've put business deals with Bill Gates on ice."

Baretz, whose kids are 14, 12, 8 and 7, enjoys working under family-minded superiors.

"I'm lucky to be working with guys I've known half my life," Baretz says. "I trust implicitly my partners, as they trust me. When I go to my son's baseball game on a Thursday afternoon, I don't have to lie, I don't have to sneak out. My boss is as excited about the game as I am. He knows I'll get my work done, and he shares in my joy of raising a family."