Life at Work

More Fathers Figure on Family Time

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 18, 2006

It's Chris Caffrey's busy season. The 34-year-old soon-to-be partner at accounting firm Ernst & Young has lots of tasks to juggle. Oh, sure, there's work. But what really has him hopping these late spring days are his son's baseball games, his daughter's softball practices and events for his two younger children.

Thanks to an attitude that he can do it all, and a company that encourages its employees to create the schedule that works best for their lives, Caffrey sometimes leaves his client's office in the afternoon to take one child to a game or to attend another's teacher conference. The games are over around 8 o'clock, the kids are usually in bed by 9, and that's when Caffrey, who lives in Ashburn, fires up the laptop to finish his work.

"It's very important to me personally that I make their games and practices. It's a matter of good project management. It's a matter of taking advantage of the technology that the firm offers," Caffrey said. "And also, we have very good people who work for the firm who are very understanding and supportive of my schedule."

If a working dad takes an afternoon off to attend a child's recital, does anyone make a sound? Not so much anymore, many of those dads say.

Working dads have long been viewed in the "Leave It to Beaver" way: Off to work in the morning, back in time for dinner, then as Dad eases into his recliner, Mom puts the little ones to bed.

But today's generation of dads -- along with the companies for which they work -- is trying to change all that forever. Those flexible hours that working moms urged companies to provide are finally also being used by working dads. Paternity leave is a common benefit now. And dads today say they would give up a promotion or even a raise if it meant they could have just a little more time with their little ones.

There are, of course, many working dads -- and moms -- who don't have the flexibility to leave early for a child's graduation or school conference. Others are punished by their managers if they miss work or are late because of family issues. But other companies are finding that the more flexible they are about workers' schedules, the more loyal the workers.

"As Generations X and Y begin to move into their fatherhood years, they are less shackled by previous generations' understanding of the roles that people play," said John Challenger, chief executive of the human resources consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "They are just more cognizant of the importance that has in their lives."

Dan Miller started to spend a day or two working at home when he joined consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. in 1998. He might stay home if he had a doctor's appointment or wasn't feeling well. But when his daughter was born five years ago, he began to work from home more often. "I realized she's really important to me," he said. The transition to sometimes-at-home dad wasn't easy. "I felt sort of guilty at first. Like it was not something you're supposed to do."

But he got used to it. Last week, his daughter graduated from preschool. His wife, who works for Booz from home most days, told him that he could skip the graduation ceremony if he wanted, but that "she's only going to graduate from preschool once," he said. And so he spent his morning on the laptop, then off to graduation and a lunch at Chuck E. Cheese's. (He admits he'd rather have been working at that point.) Then he came home and got back to work.

"I don't remember my dad playing with me growing up," Miller said. "He was a great father. It's just that he went off to work. We'd maybe play a smidge after dinner, then off to bed with me. Now I see that all the fathers are more actively engaged in their kids." He thinks it pays off : With his technology background, he has taught his daughter how to e-mail. She sends him notes at work.

That stigma he mentioned isn't so rare. Some think it keeps many men from taking advantage of benefits designed for all workers, including fathers, single employees and those without children.

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