Using work to escape from fatherhood

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'Back at work yet?' I asked Steve* while keeping an eye on our pre-school daughters who were running in circles and squealing with delighted fascination at each other on the busy café strip. It’s the middle of January and the end of the long summer break was in sight.

'Yeah. Went back yesterday,’ he replies, adding ‘Thank God!' with a roll of his eyes.

Perhaps it was meant as a male bonding moment. It wouldn't be the first time I’d missed cues of male bonding and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But I think he was sincere: he really did want to go back to work in order to get a break from home.

The strange thing is that he’s made clear to me in the past that he doesn’t really like his job. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. He loathes his job.

He has every reason to have gripes. Despite hitting — and handsomely exceeding annual targets — and moving his family around the country for the greater good of his company, he’s been repeatedly declined a promised promotion.

And it’s not as if he works for a small business struggling to make ends meet. His employer is one of Australia’s largest firms — the kind that boasts about their flexible, family-friendly policies on its website.

It came as a shock, then, to find that he prefers to spend time with a group of people who obviously do not have his best interests at heart instead of his daughter.

Outside of holidays, he barely sees his little girl. Like many corporate soldiers, he can go five days in a row without seeing her awake.

Steve’s experience isn’t uncommon. A 2009 survey conducted by the Australia Institute found that men with young children do more overtime than any other segment of the workforce. They put in an average of 71 minutes of overtime per day. In contrast, men overall do 63 minutes overtime in a typical workday.

That’s a startling figure. If any group of men had a good reason to leave the office on time, it’s those with young children to bath and tuck in at night. Yet they’re doing more overtime than any other segment of the workforce.

For Steve, at least, time at the office is an oasis from the chaos of home. And, let's be honest, meeting the needs of young children isn't always as straightforward as meeting those of clients.

Sure, some clients — and even colleagues — may have the emotional range and temperaments and communication skills of toddlers, but at least in professional settings, the challenges can be defined. There are processes for dealing with problems. And there are people who can be called in at a moments’ notice to do specific jobs.

Not so with pre-school age children. Especially over the long summer break, many of the structured activities for children dry up. No storytime at the library. No kindergym. No regular playgroup. No music lessons. No childcare.

This lack of structure may be one reason why men who become fathers work the longest hours out of all workers. No doubt some of the longer hours are to pay for the children. But it may also be to escape.

And some of this time may not even be spent at the office. In his book Fat, Forty and Fired, Nigel Marsh confessed that he would sometimes wait in his car outside the house after work so as to avoid the evening chaos of getting his four children fed, bathed and in bed.

But even granting that parenthood isn’t always a picnic, what’s the point of a few moments of silence if it means you’re missing out on being part of your children’s life? Sure the peace and quiet may be nice, but it’s temporary. Your bond with your children is going to be much longer.

Of course, everyone’s situation is different. Some jobs don’t permit a great deal of flexibility. People who work in small businesses and independent contractors often don’t have the same luxuries enjoyed by salaried employees.

But most men who are putting in overtime are in the high-income bracket — jobs that typically allow greater opportunities to work where and when you want, compared to most jobs.

Dads need to remember that providing for our families isn’t just about the paycheck. It’s also about being present as much as we can.


* Name has been changed

Christopher Scanlon is a Melbourne writer and a co-founder of www.upstart.net.au, the website for emerging journalist

 

50 comments

  • An alternative explanation for men with young children working longer hours than men without young children is that the men with young children are now the sole breadwinners to a young family and therefore are keen to be seen to be working harder than their competitors so the boss doesn't think they are slacking off.

    With regards to high income earners putting in more overtime than average, jobs that are in the high income bracket may afford more flexibility but they also generally require more work and have no shortage of candidates looking to fill them if the current holder looks like they are slacking off.

    Commenter
    Hurrow
    Date and time
    January 16, 2013, 10:20AM
    • Ok before this is taken up as fact.

      You are wrong. The article states that these are employees higher up the scale and they would be salaried. That means if they work overtime they get no more pay.

      Sorry that is not the reason and also they can manage that by doing it after the children are in bed.

      Sorry excuse not allowed.,

      I think many men need to grow a set and like women have to do actually say they need to go home on time because they are a parent. Women have to do this and risk silent discrimination So do men and I don't even think it will exist

      Commenter
      Maggie
      Date and time
      January 16, 2013, 11:33AM
    • I'm a man but not a father and I was about to say a similar thing. Perhaps many men with young children feel the best way they can contribute to the support and well-being of their family is by putting food on the table and being able to provide other things.

      The best way this is done is by not just earning their pay check but also the best possible bonus/incentive payments they can. This generally means more work hours.

      Plus isn't there a bit of the grass is always greener happening? when you're at work you're longing for holidays and when you're stuck at home you're longing for the routine of work.

      its human nature to get bored of what you're doing after a while and want that other thing that you were doing before doing what you're currently doing... I'm rambling.

      Commenter
      Adrian
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 16, 2013, 11:34AM
    • "Sorry excuse not allowed.,"

      You're wrong, quite simply. Salaried people put in overtime constantly in order to gain a reputation and meet the expectations of management, to be put above the others in line. Pay is irrelevant.

      "that by doing it after the children are in bed."

      You really don't understand office dynamics...or how men work, for that matter.

      Commenter
      Tim the Toolman
      Date and time
      January 16, 2013, 11:52AM
    • @Maggie - Nowhere in the article does it say that higher income jobs are salaried. In fact what I think you will likely find is that many of those jobs pay both a salary and a discretionary bonus, and therefore men with children will work longer hours to maximise that bonus as well as prove to their employer that they are still dedicated employees. I don't know if you are familiar with the concept of "face time" where employees feel they need to be at their desk well beyond their scheduled hours but I can assure you it is real in many professions. I'm not saying it's ideal but it is a reality even if you don't face it yourself.

      Commenter
      Hurrow
      Date and time
      January 16, 2013, 11:55AM
    • Nah, agree entirely with the author. Your explanation seems too much like a self-serving justification.

      Commenter
      TwoBob
      Date and time
      January 16, 2013, 12:02PM
    • Sorry, but this seems like a load of BS. I think you guys tell yourself this just to make yourself feel better and not guilty. Also, what of when the higher income earner or breadwinner is the woman, often the men still don't give up their jobs, but a nanny or equivalent is employed.

      Commenter
      Julia
      Date and time
      January 16, 2013, 12:11PM
    • @Twobob - I don't have kids so the situation is entirely hypothetical for me for the moment at least. When my wife and I do have children though it is very likely that she will take time out to care for them as I am the major breadwinner by a fairly substantial margin.

      @Julia - Are you saying that men don't feel the need to make sure their job is secure and that they can help provide financial security for their family?

      I can only speak for my set of friends but in the one case where the male was not the main breadwinner he is now the partner staying at home while his wife works. I'd certainly be interested in seeing a proper set of statistics on what does normally happens in instances like this though.

      Commenter
      Hurrow
      Date and time
      January 16, 2013, 12:51PM
    • " often the men still don't give up their jobs"

      I reiterate. You do not understand men. You get upset when men tell women what they're really thinking. Perhaps take your own advice. Men, generally, need to work. We like to provide and work, even if we hate the job. We especially like to provide the best we can for our family.

      These are not excuses, they are the reason men work themselves to an early death for (apparently) ungrateful spouses.

      Commenter
      Tim the Toolman
      Date and time
      January 16, 2013, 1:00PM
    • @Tim the Toolman

      You wrote: "You really don't understand office dynamics...or how men work, for that matter."

      Then office dynamics and the way men work needs to change.

      Commenter
      Mother
      Date and time
      January 16, 2013, 1:21PM

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