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Earning Power!: June 2006

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Fear or Revere Father Figures?

Women very often have an older man, often with kids of his own, mentor them mid-career. In fact, according to a UCLA study, the majority of top women credit a men with helping their careers more than women.

But when I speak to a corporate audience, very often the top guy in charge won’t say a word, but when everyone is gone he pulls me someplace quiet and says something like, “I don’t know anything about this ‘woman in the workplace’ stuff, but as a father, my concern is for own daughter who’ll graduate soon. What can I do?”

This is the situation the working dad finds himself in, the pull between two roles: at work and at home, and the overlap and conflict of his own beliefs.

Mercy! I’m going to be a dad. What can I do? It’s something every dad asks from the moment he inherits the responsibility. Once making bottles is second nature, the tool set for comforting the kids expands, and men look at leaving a legacy they think about issues differently than when they were single and unencumbered. Real fathers don’t hurt their wife or children, but instead are accountable, take time, coach, mentor and encourage, and grow to understand their role in parenthood by stepping outside themselves.

When I spoke with Harry Connick, Jr. last month on the set of the Will and Grace finale, I didn’t know he would be this month’s Redbook cover as, “Heroic, hunky Harry, the perfect man.” Harry was talking about how affected he was by Katrina, the Musician’s Village and fundraisers when we were introduced. Later he was gushing about Georgia, Sara and Charlotte, his daughters. This dad is all over caring about people and family. And maybe being a dad has made you more intimate with larger social causes, too.

This is how it goes when men realize they share many women’s issues that have to do with parenting. Women have been defining their lives by the men in them. Men matter because they make an incredible impact on the lives of women in their sphere of influence. Women live with the choices men make, good or bad. Fathers are in the best position to be positive influences on women, because they are most intimate with protecting the mother’s of their children, and also the most concerned with opening opportunities for their own daughters.

The father figure is a very common type of man that women mention when they talk about their career supporters. The benefit to him in empowering women is to create a better environment for the women in his life by setting an example for the present behavior and future workplace. This guy wants the best for his own women, so he protects and mentors women he works with to create positive energy and a difference within his sphere of influence.

Men who have careers know that while they are out hunting down the next deal in order to provide for the family, they would like to know their family is happily being raised and they appreciate his hard work. They try to partner on raising the first child, negotiate and delegate when the second arrives, and can no longer ignore something has to change by the time there’s a third. Working men marry expecting to insource childraising to the working mother who cannot meet these unrealistic expectations without cutting back on workload or pay, quitting entirely, or outsourcing the childcare to a woman who is even worse off financially.

Why is this important? Because men are looking for women to marry and insource their potential child raising to while they conquer the workplace almost as frantically as employed women seek women to outsource childcare while they go to their jobs.

Responsible breadwinning parents are not going to be at home enough to also give full attention to the kids. Even Harry’s wife and kids wish he was around more.

But this is where fathers can also make the most impact. Women whose fathers share stories from their business, let them participate, or coach them directly are likely to have a distinct advantage when they become businesswomen. In addition, men who help with key household responsibilities having to do with their kids, things too urgent to postpone to a weekend, actually help their family earn more overall when the mother works.

Where are the men on those talk shows when the host is blasting the women for their failures with their kids? Daytime shows are filled with variations on the “I’m not that baby’s daddy” theme. Evening reality nanny shows are about fathers who are acting more “transparent” than “the parent”. Housewife shows where husbands are apathetic, unyielding or clueless partners and fathers abound.

I don’t want to make Father’s Day a day for political rallying. Men should not be victims, neither should women’s rights be replaced by men’s, but sexism should be removed overall rather than played up as a game of foolish finger pointing that damages the next generation.

I’m just saying that men who are mature fathers are sometimes the most clear on why women’s issues are really their issues, too.

Fathers Day itself was started by a woman, Sonora Dodd, who took occasion to thank a man. A widower bringing up five children, her father inspired her to create the Father’s Day celebration that became an official holiday in 1972. According to the census, about two and a half million men are single parents living and raising their children, not unlike Ms. Dodd’s father.

So maybe men sometimes just need to be someone’s hero: admired, thanked, and appreciated. To know what they do matters. Well, it does. Men do Matter. Happy Father’s Day.