washingtonpost.com
More Fathers Figure on Family Time
They're Taking Advantage of Flexible Schedules

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.

"In the workplace, it is okay for women to take flex time and maternity leave. But there's still a stigma attached to men doing that," said Jeffrey Levine, an executive coach who runs a Los Angeles coaching firm called Executive Dads. "So, even in companies that offer flex time or paternity leave, it's not used." He recently gave a talk at Kimberly-Clark Corp. in Wisconsin about how to balance professional success with parenthood. About 80 women attended, while just three men came.

But some top companies are making it a lot easier for working dads to take advantage of perks that could give them more time with their families.

Mike Dillon is general counsel with Sun Microsystems Inc. He worked for the company for several years before leaving in 1999 to create a start-up. After that went public, he came back to a changed Sun. Gone were the mahogany desks with corner offices. Instead, the attorneys were scattered around the campus and at clients' offices or were working remotely.

While he was gone, the company set up an open work environment. Special computers called SunRays were set up in coffee shops, cafes and offices throughout the company. Any employee with an identification card can simply put the card in a computer and start working as if at his or her own designated desk. If workers need an office that day, they sign up for one. Dillon can hop on a plane to a Sun office in Korea and get right to work without lugging a laptop with him. He is also set up at home.

When he became general counsel, he realized it was a 24-hour-a-day job. It made it more difficult to have quality time with his family. Sun's new open work program helped him figure out how to have good time with his family without feeling he should be at the office.

Dillon explains that his naval officer father was often deployed seven to nine months a year. "While I was growing up, he was always gone. It really created an awareness in me when I became a father how important that connection is with your dad," he said. With the Sun program, he has shifted some of his work hours so he can spend time with his three children and wife.

Some mornings, he logs on to his SunRay, does a little work and then takes his 15-year-old son to school. "Even 30 minutes every few days in the car, just two of us talking, is very beneficial," he said. Dillon then comes home, does more work, and gets into an office around 10 a.m.

"We talk so much about a work-life balance. But I always wanted a clear demarcation between those two. Now they're getting integrated, and it's just life," Dillon said. "It used to be I'd try to go home on a Friday night with no work. I was trying to be an active participant with my kids. But the stress was mounting, knowing there would be a tsunami of e-mails on Monday." Now, he can hop on the network for 10 minutes at a time to answer e-mails or do other work.

"This allows me to better focus on family when I am with them."

If you have Life at Work column ideas, e-mail Amy atlifeatwork@washpost.com. There will be no online chat this week, but join her again from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday, June 27, athttp://washingtonpost.comto discuss your workplace issues.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company