“Let’s hear it for the dads”

Today I’m writing on a topic close to home - the celebration of the modern-day father.

The modern-day father comes in various forms and is no longer always the traditional breadwinner and disciplinarian. He can be single or married; work in an office or stay-at-home; older or younger, gay or straight; an adoptive or step-dad. No matter what our situation is, sometimes being a modern-day father is HARD.

Expectations are high from society, from our family, from our employer.  We need to be superhero dads, be present in our child’s lives, not just showing up for events from time to time but knowing what’s actually going on at school and at play. We need to be actively involved in their development both physically and emotionally – talking, understanding, role modelling behaviours. We need to support our partners - sharing the child-rearing, ensuring their wellbeing and sanity isn’t stretched too far. These expectations are high, but most of all, we have high expectations of ourselves.  We reflect time and again on the type of father we want to be and the type of father that we’ve become, frequently drawing on our own experiences of when we were growing up. “I don’t want to make the same mistakes as my dad” and, “I learned so much from my father” are comments echoed in countless coaching conversations I’ve had over the years. And while expectations of fathers have increased expectations of men as totally committed workers has not decreased. And with these expectations comes immense pressure.

Last month Talking Talent published our research on Burnout – for working dads the results are alarming.

Our research suggests that the dual identity of being mum or dad, together with their role at work is placing particular strain on working parents and making burnout more likely. Over two-thirds (67%) of working parents feel worn out by the type of work and the environment they work in. And this gap is wider for men at work with 72% of working dads claiming to be physically and emotionally worn out by their work and working environment. The knock-on effect is heart-wrenching - 57% of working dads believe they are not being good enough parents or partners.

For many, these statistics may not be all that surprising. Sadly, in my coaching work with new and existing Dads, I hear that the additional pressure of needing to ‘put the hours in’ results in the adoption of additional stress-inducing behaviours. Needing to invent business meetings to provide a reason for leaving work on time may sound bonkers but for some, that’s the only way they can legitimise leaving work on time to see the children. This is just one example of the ‘Daddy Dilemma’ – how to be a positive and present father while managing a successful career in an increasingly competitive landscape.  

Just as women have expressed feelings of resentment and frustration at being pushed back to positions like their own mothers due to societal norms and structures, so too are Dads being pushed toward the traditional gender role of their working father. This is all despite dual-income, shared-care families being more common than single income, stay at home parent families; despite Dad’s spending three times as much time with their children as dads did a generation ago; and despite the aspiration that most fathers have to be more involved in their children’s lives.

As a result, dads are experiencing as much work-family conflict as mums – a warped mirror version of the journey women are still on, where they strive for success at work and at home.

By supporting fathers with systems that enable dual parental leave, flexible working and wellbeing in the workplace, we can stop people falling back into stereotypical roles that they do not aspire to and also enable a culture that is mindful of the stressors present in a working fathers’ life.

Of course, organisations and leaders cannot fix employees’ wellbeing, but they can facilitate the conditions in which individuals can learn to manage their own wellbeing better. That might be through modelling compassionate leadership, or through a greater understanding of the way in which wellbeing issues show up in the workplace. Coaching line managers to develop their capability in supporting working parents is a very positive approach.  This kind of people skills development is often sorely under-invested in over more technical, operational and regulatory training and yet if employees are stressed then no amount of technical training will help them sustain their performance.  

The dual responsibility of being a Dad and being a breadwinner is hard work. But we must continue. Not only to balance our own sense of purpose but to provide the familial nourishment that our children will thrive on. Psychological research across families from all ethnic backgrounds suggests that fathers' affection and increased family involvement help promote children's social and emotional development.

Change like this takes time. Women started this journey and as our society evolves we can support each other. By driving our own aspirations for flexibility, we don’t just benefit the modern-day dad, we help drive gender balance across the board.

When my children were very young I won’t lie, it was great to disappear to my work world, where I knew what I was doing and was listened to and where I had status. And although it’s hard, being a modern-day dad definitely has its perks. On Friday I finished early to treat my daughter to a coffee out. She has had a tough week with her A levels and I wanted to lend some practical moral support. I could see her slowly relax as we chatted ... it's the least I can do and we both started our weekends a little lighter in spirit. It's not always the big Daddy gestures that make the difference ... it's often the stuff that only requires a little flexibility.