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White House discussion: working dads want a balance too

Yes, dads know how to tie shoes too. (Amy Joyce)

Yeah, yeah, we hear it all the time. Working moms are trying to find a balance — the flexibility/time to be with kids and grow a career at the same time.

Well, guess what? It’s time to talk about the dads.

On Monday, one of those conversations happened at the White House. More than a dozen fathers, business leaders and researchers discussed things like new roles for dads at home, issues facing dads at work and the business case for paid leave and workplace flexibility — something that has become an issue recently in the administration.

The event Monday is a lead-up to the White House Summit on Working Families, which takes place June 23.

On deck (sorry, couldn’t help myself) was Daniel Murphy, Mets second baseman. He and his wife were joined by their 7-week-old son, who became famous within hours of his delivery because his dad missed opening day — taking paid paternity leave — to be present for his birth. The decision Murphy made with the support of his team and managers was met with criticism from a few folks who are stuck in a different time and place.

Murphy said he and his wife decided he would be there for their son’s birth because “long after they tell me I’m not good enough to play baseball anymore, I’m a father and husband.”

That was essentially the theme of the day: “Just” the dad is no longer an acceptable phrase, or at least it shouldn’t be. And discussions like the one Monday will help to end those outdated terms of unendearment.

In fact, dads are becoming very vocal about wanting more time with their children. According to a new report released Monday by the Boston College Center for Work and Family, 89 percent of U.S. fathers said it was important for employers to provide paid paternity leave or parental leave. This is from a survey of more than 1,000 fathers at 286 organizations. According to the International Labor Organization, 70 countries had paid paternity leave in 2013. (The United States still doesn’t have maternity leave.)

Keep in mind that, according to 2013 census data, 21 percent of fathers with working spouses are the primary caregivers to children under age 5. And more fathers are signing up to do the same — because they want to.

Meanwhile, 60 percent of working dads said they experienced work-family conflict back in 2008, which was up from just 35 percent in 1977, according to a Families and Work Institute study. And dads were discussing it and living it even before that.

The thing is, when fathers talk about this — and joining the dads in Monday’s discussion were administration dads Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough — it helps everyone. Just as working moms have been doing for years now, working dads need to advocate for balance, too.

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