The XX Factor

Bring on the Daddy Wars

Honey, I’m home (to take Liam to the doctor, pick up class snack for next week, make the Phineas and Ferb costumes, and work for three more hours).

Photo by iofoto/Shutterstock

Good news, dads who co-parent and take responsibility for your children’s schedules: Your co-workers are annoyed at you. I’m being sarcastic, of course, but in a way it is good news that in 2013 there are enough of us dads who bend the timetables of the office to fit our family lives, and not vice-versa, for people to notice. In fact, according to Marc Tracy at the New Republic, we are finally on the verge of the “Daddy Wars”—a time when issues of work/family balance for fathers will finally come to the fore, when dads will start having the kinds of debates with one another and themselves that moms have been having for decades. And thank God for that.

This week I participated in an afternoon conference call in which several Slate editors interviewed a job candidate. The call was scheduled for 4 p.m. (Why are the calls always scheduled for 4?)! I left the office at 3:20, got home just before 4, and called in on my cell. At 4:25 I muted my phone; climbed in the car; and drove to the house where my kids, having been released early from school that day, were having their playdate. At 4:30 I parked in front of the house and, as my daughters barreled out the front door, apologetically signed off the call.

I’m sure this was annoying to my colleagues. (I did warn them ahead of time that I would be departing early.) I know for a fact that, more broadly, many of my childless co-workers (and perhaps some of my child-having co-workers!) get frustrated with the fact that I am often unavailable between 4 and 6, or that I missed the Friday meeting because of a kindergarten performance, or that my kids have a lot of doctor’s appointments. I understand their frustration: Even though I work pretty much every night and weekend, many of them do, too, and when you’re trying to do your job, it is a huge pain when someone isn’t there when you need him or her to be. And while it’s indisputably a good thing that parents at Slate feel comfortable enough to be transparent about their daily plans—as opposed to other workplaces, where parents lie or try to quietly duck out—it also means that nonparents have the pleasure of receiving daily emails from their colleagues about all the times they won’t be working.

But there’s no solution to this problem. Or rather the solution is simply that they will have to remain annoyed at me, and I will have to remain feeling guilty about it, because I am a dad as well as an editor, and I will have daily family responsibilities from now until 2026. I hope that I will do my job well and productively enough that their frustration doesn’t evolve into full-on resentment. (I’m very lucky that my boss-of-bosses is also an engaged dad facing the exact same situation as I do and is extremely sympathetic. This has never been true in any other job I’ve ever had and is not true for most dads.)

So bring on the Daddy Wars. If we start running a lot more pieces about these issues, at least my colleagues will know that we’re not the only company facing them and I’m not the only dad struggling to balance my family and my job. If the Mommy Wars have taught us anything, it’s that there are no easy answers—but it makes a huge difference when more people are, at least, aware of the questions.