| Business Dad |
By Tom Hirschfeld and Julie Hirschfeld, Ph.D.
Genre: Business & Money
(The buy button will take you to the standard print edition of this book at Amazon.com. From there you will be able to see if the book is also available in large print or audio.)
As businessmen and as fathers, we face nowadays what is known in business as a high-class problem: an explosion of opportunity without a single extra hour in the day.
Think of how life has changed since 1960. In business, that was the heyday of the Organization Man, who knew exactly where he fit within his company and his world. In his gray flannel suit, he would catch the same train every morning, do the same kind of work, drink the same number of martinis at his two-hour lunch, and pretty much never have to wonder where his next paycheck was coming from. He had every reason to expect his company and his job to be there waiting for him the next day. Life moved slowly, and the world changed gradually. It was a comfortable existence, all in all, if not the most exciting one.
Today, we have all the excitement we can handle. The natural barriers of time and distance, and the man-made ones of tariff and regulation, are crumbling into dust. For enterprising individuals and companies, possibilities expand every day. Previously unimaginable rewards are there for the taking. But for those a bit slower on the uptake, a bit more complacent or less informed, technology and globalization represent opportunities to lose, not win.
And the line between loser and winner seems to get thinner every day. Just when we imagine our careers are going fine boom! some fresh thundercloud approaches. It could be a new technology, a new market entrant, or even a new VP down the hall. In this age of dizzying change, the wheel of fortune spins faster the harder we run. Even if we're lucky enough to scramble our way to the top, we've got to keep sprinting just to stay there and the trickiest part is that the blasted thing keeps changing direction. We can never relax, never coast. Laurels? Nowadays, they wither overnight. Nothing recedes like success.
The only thing between us and the bottom of the wheel is information but information is part of the problem as well. It used to drift in at a nice, manageable pace, then sit politely until we were ready to absorb it. These days, facts and factoids come hurtling at us like balls from a pitching machine gone berserk. If we don't keep watching and swinging, we're bound to get beaned. What we don't know really can hurt us we're playing hardball now.
To survive professionally, it seems we businessmen must constantly work harder, longer, and farther away. Despite the Internet and videoconferencing, the airlines have never been busier. The "just in time" techniques widely applied to cutting inventories now seem to apply to human resources as well, so we have less and less control over our hours. Even when we're not on duty, the communications revolution keeps us on call. The "efficiencies" from a decade of downsizing have managed simultaneously to increase our workloads and to dangle a constant threat above our heads. But the travel, the crazy schedules, the job stress they're all worth it, because we're doing it for the kids.
The kids. Ah, the kids. Don't you love to think of them, home with their moms or nannies, or off in day care or school, just waiting for that moment tonight when we'll walk in the door? If we can only get this draft report circulated by seven o'clock, we should be home before they hit the sack. And even if we can't squeeze in any quality time tonight, there's always tomorrow, or this weekend, right after golf. Sure, we'd love to spend more time with them, but our top priority has to be bringing home the bacon, after all. Luckily, their moms are terrific with them. After all, the kids have mostly been Mom's department, whether she has a "day job" or not though we're good family men and help out whenever we can. After a hard day at the office, we probably wouldn't be that much fun to hang out with, anyway.
Just a minute! What's wrong with this picture? Nothing, except that it's not 1960 at home anymore, either. Back then, a good family man basically had two roles to fill with his kids: provider and disciplinarian. Mom handled the rest. But today's approximately ten million businessmen with kids under age eighteen have been hit with what the business books might call a paradigm shift. As a result, the kind of remote-control fathering caricatured above just doesn't cut it anymore. Success at home, like success at work, is a lot more demanding than it used to be. On the other hand, it's also a lot more rewarding.
Three related trends have dramatically expanded our job descriptions as fathers. First, our own parents rarely obsessed about parenting or even used the term; they just did it. Now, though, society is much more focused on what parents should do to bring up but not mess up their children. People think more about what kids really need, and how parents can affect them for good or ill. Entire industries of books, magazines, and Web sites have sprung up telling parents what to do and what not to do and some of the advice is even right.
Second, the social infrastructure for rearing kids is let's face it rotting. The structured schools, safe neighborhoods, wholesome TV programming, frequent worship, and united families of yesteryear, which reinforced the messages parents sent their kids (or even offset parental shortcomings), can no longer be depended on. Schools pay more attention to political correctness and children's self-esteem than to learning, kids get snatched off neighborhood streets, TV teaches materialism and cynicism, spirituality too often comes as an afterthought, and half of marriages end in divorce. Where once parents could count on society as an ally, now we have to fight the culture's low expectations of (and for) our children. So raising kids right has become harder.
But not all the news is bad. The third trend is generally positive, although closely linked to the second: the blossoming of options for men and women about what kind of lives to lead. Mothers enjoy more and better opportunities in the world of paid work, while men have learned that strong and silent don't have to go together. Just as women are no longer seen as lovable incompetents or mere ornaments in the workplace, we men are no longer automatically foreigners in the nursery or the kitchen. We can enjoy richer, deeper relationships with our children than the Organization Man ever imagined.
This loosening of gender roles may give men more choices, but put it together with the newly perceived urgency of our children's needs, and it spells responsibility. In a haywire society, successful families don't just happen: parents, both parents, have to make them happen. We dads still have to be providers, but no longer just in the financial sense. We're desperately needed as equal partners in child-rearing, in providing that warm, structured upbringing that could make the difference down the line between Yale and jail. Our wives and the (other) experts tell us that we need to make a true commitment to parenting to be there for our kids every day, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally.
Do you know your kids' teachers? Their friends' names? Their homework schedules, or how many sweets they're allowed in a day? What are your thoughts about their current disciplinary challenges? And by the way, do you remember your sales deliverable for next quarter? Have you figured out what could go wrong in your revenue pipeline? What are you doing about it? Do you even know who your real competitors are?
Think fast! Now, think faster!
The timing is painful. We're trying not to blow the critical years of our kids' childhoods, while at the same time struggling to build careers in the midst of one of the most challenging business climates ever. Is it any wonder that many business dads feel overwhelmed? In 1979, a national survey found that only 12 percent of fathers said they were experiencing stress trying to balance work and family; by 1989, that figure had climbed to 72 percent. What's your guess for 1999?
Don M., a friend of mine, gives me some clues as to the answer. (I'll protect my personal contacts' privacy by using their last initials, and by changing names in a few cases, but they're all real people, not composites.) Don has just completed his M.B.A. after having started his career in the nonprofit sector. He and his wife don't have kids yet, but he's already wondering out loud if he'll be able to succeed in business and still give them what they need. His own dad was a policeman who worked thirty-five hours a week, and so was home more often than not. Don knows with "a kind of lingering guilt" that he won't be able to match that. Nor is he alone; he says the inevitable conflicts between home and work come up regularly among his B-school classmates.
Business Week described the predicament in a long article in the fall of 1998 titled "The Daddy Trap," with the subhead, "Men face greater expectations at home. But work isn't giving them the slack they need." The article quotes Jeffrey Welch, a New York bank executive who's frustrated by the difficulty of succeeding at both work and fathering. "I'd like to participate more in school or camp stuff, but I can't manage my schedule in a way to allow that. I'm letting go of everything for myself, except for exercise on weekends. . . . I want to be a dad who, thirty years down the road, my kids say, ?Yeah, he was a big part of our life.' And right now, I'm not that."
What can we business dads do to escape the Daddy Trap? The first step, once we recognize the problem, is simple: resolving to give it our best shot. In this age of change, we're used to having new expectations thrust on us, so we might as well take on one more our expanded responsibilities as fathers. We love our kids like anything, and we want the best for them, whatever this world has to offer. It's certainly not our habit to shirk an assignment or to run from a challenge. Jobs come and go, but family is forever at least we hope it is. So we're ready to make the commitment.
Unfortunately, deciding to be a good father is only the first step. Real life is littered with obstacles that make fathering tough for even the best intentioned of us. In combination, these obstacles can make us wonder if our fathering efforts are worth the extra stress, even while we feel guilty for not doing more. (It's like the old joke about the guy who tells the waiter, "This food is terrible and besides, the portions are so small!") Given the ceaseless demands we face from work, the only thing worse than feeling we're not trying hard enough as dads is suspecting that the efforts we are making are misguided, wasted, or even counterproductive. Here's a brief sampling of the obstacles I have in mind. I'm sure you can supply plenty more on your own.
What We're Up Against
No training. Dozens of schools offer M.B.A.'s, but there's no Master of Fatherly Administration. The fact is, we can't prepare for having kids the way many of us prepared for our professional careers. And make no mistake: fathering is tricky work, hellaciously hard sometimes, with more pitfalls and traps than an Indiana Jones flick. We can get training to engineer a merger, turn around a factory, or launch a new brand, but fathering makes all those feats look like cakewalks.
No role models. Bookstore business sections bulge with billionaires tomes by or about idols like Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, Michael Eisner, Sam Walton, and Warren Buffett. But where are the heroes of fathering, the shining examples for us to emulate and measure ourselves against?
Mentors make a major difference, as the phenomenon of Silicon Valley shows. Did that awesome agglomeration of capital and brains happen overnight? Of course not. Companies such as Hewlett-Packard, which was founded more than sixty years ago, and Fairchild Semiconductor served as mentors and "fathers" to a whole industry. Where can dads get that kind of guidance today?
Our wives typically grew up being groomed for the role of mother, and their first female role models were their own mothers, who by and large did a pretty good job. Most of us, on the other hand, had dads of the old school (if we were lucky enough to have fathers living with us at all). Some of those dads may have performed fantastically under the old rules lower expectations, shorter work hours, and wives who stayed home. But times have changed, and some of our fathers' lessons no longer apply.
No expert status. Moms begin with all kinds of cultural preparation for being sensitive, nurturing, competent parents. What really makes them experts, though, is spending so much time with the kids, beginning with pregnancy. Sooner or later, the children become their turf. Once that happens, anyone who ventures onto that turf risks correction, reprimand, or worse.
The husbands of expert moms may get caught in a catch-22. The best way to learn is by doing, but the more the knowledge gap widens, the more painful it can be for us to try doing anything. At the very least, we're bound to be relatively inefficient. Also, some moms act so possessive about their kids that it can be tough for lessinvolved dads to get closer. Worst of all, some dads find it unpleasant to do anything they're not instantly good at meaning they never learn.
No books. Have you been to your neighborhood bookstore lately? Almost all the books on child raising are for moms or parents, which in most cases amounts to a code word for moms. There's little that focuses on the contributions that only fathers can make, or on the issues they have to deal with. Most books with "father" in the title target subgroups like single dads, gay dads, or middle-aged dads, as if they're the only ones who need or want advice. Of the few general books for fathers, one of today's bestsellers dates from the Nixon presidency! Even the more recent books were written by psychologists, writers, professors, or fathering activists not a businessman among them. As a result, the authors tend to gloss over issues that business dads face, and they totally ignore the amazing resources that our hard-won business skills give us. Instead, they write long, long chapters dwelling on things that social scientists care about. Parts can be useful, but the authors seem too seldom to have dads like you and me in mind.
No magazines. Try finding anything about fathering in the men's health or men's life mags. Women are bombarded with parenting articles in the "women's service" magazines, and of course they have their pick of general (that is, woman-targeted) parenting magazines, but there's virtually nothing out there just for fathers, let alone for business dads like us. On the Web, you'll find huge volumes of information for parents, but again written mostly with mothers in mind.
No time. For combatants in today's economy, time is the scarcest commodity. Most of our dads had more time to fulfill their (relatively limited) fathering expectations, because they worked maybe fifty hours tops. The rest of the time, they basically stayed around the house, and we got to see them reading, fixing things, and chatting with the neighbors letting us observe who they were and how they acted. Today, by contrast, our "day jobs" could go on all day, every day, if we let them. Like our dads, we still need adult time with the women we married, and maybe a couple of hours by ourselves to recharge our batteries. With all those competing priorities, who has time to be a father, let alone a good one?
No professionalism. It's an understatement to say that corporate and kid environments are not the same. At work we give a few terse orders, and behold, they get carried out; at home we try the same, and get a tantrum or an adolescent snit for our pains. At work we're told problems so we can solve them; at home we're told problems no one can solve. At work we aspire to order and clarity; at home chaos is rarely far away. At work we're rewarded for focus, intensity, and singleness of purpose; if we try applying those characteristics the same way at home, the only reward we get is rapid burnout. Any business dad can testify, in summary, that reflexively slipping into office behavior with our kids is risky business. The problem is, they just don't act like professionals.
No evaluations. At work and home alike, it's tough to rise above the day-to-day tumult to get a good overview of how we're really performing. Good employers provide some kind of formal assessment every three, six, or twelve months to make sure that we stay on the right track and that we know which skills need more work. Our kids can't give us any explicit feedback till they talk, and formal evaluations are never very likely. All we can do is watch how they're doing, and guess how we might help them do better.
No pay. Annual assessments are all very well, but in the corporate world nothing talks quite like cash on the barrelhead. Our salaries and bonuses constitute our rewards for a job well done, and in good years they can make all our hard work seem worthwhile. As fathers, by contrast, we tend to see cash streaming out in the opposite direction. Then there's the "soft" compensation at work, like Outstanding Salesman recognition ceremonies and praise from the boss, or the little courtesies and ego boosts we get from our colleagues in the course of everyday interaction. These niceties have not, I'm afraid, made it into the repertoire of most two-year-olds. There are many other compensations to fatherhood, but they're not always obvious.
No competition. Face it: one of the forces that drives us at work is the primeval urge to outperform our colleagues, or our college roommates, or our neighbors. The raise and the bonus are not simply feedback mechanisms, but also ways of keeping score. Since boyhood, and probably since the cavemen, we've instinctively asked who's biggest, who's smartest, who's fastest, who can throw the farthest, kiss the prettiest, and possess the most. But in our households, we're it. There are no other dads to compete against. Where there is no competition, can there be motivation? Can there be meaning?
With hurdles like those to overcome, you'd think business dads would try to even the odds with as much information as possible. In business, after all, we flock to new bestsellers every month, with such titles as Crossing the Chasm or The Learning Organization. And yet you may have noticed that most businessmen (yes, it's true) read fewer books on parenting than they do on business.
Why might this be? Is it that books about fathering don't have business dads in mind? That successful businessmen see books on fathering as self-improvement, a genre they haven't much time for? That businessmen absolutely must read what their competitors are reading? Or that, confronted by so many obstacles, some business dads just give up and follow Mom's instructions? I suspect that each of these explanations contains some truth.
This book sets out with the modest goal of helping to change all that. For starters, I mean this to be a book that business dads will actually read. It's a simple idea, yes, but one whose time has come: a book by a business dad for business dads.
What makes this book different? It directly addresses the What We're Up Against obstacles listed above. It uses terms naturally familiar to businessmen, with real-life examples from both the corporate and the child-raising worlds. It explores in detail the particular work-family struggles business dads face, from deadline juggling to paternity leave.
Most important, this book recognizes that we businessmen have a secret weapon to help us in the struggle to be decent dads. It shows that our business experience itself, of all things, has graced us with huge reservoirs of untapped fathering skills; that successful businessmen, by definition, have the makings of truly exceptional fathers; and that there exist commonsense, logical methods of unlocking that incredible potential.
Excerpted from Business Dad , by Tom Hirschfeld and Julie Hirschfeld, Ph.D. . Copyright (c) 1999 by Tom Hirschfeld with Julie Hirschfeld, Ph.D. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top