Reproduced from The Record

Sunday, June 19, 2005

by Michael J. Wildes, Mayor, City of Englewood

2-10 N. Van Brunt Street

Englewood , NJ 07631



The Daddy Tradeoff

Sunday, June 19, 2005

As Charlie Weisinger climbed the corporate ladder, he started getting a whiff of the "cream" that was promised him at the top. But it smelled more like sour milk, he says - a bad brew designed to keep him from his wife and four children for ever longer hours.

So instead of reaching up to take a sip, he climbed down 18 months ago, trading a career as an advertising executive for a dry-cleaning business he started with a buddy.

He's making a little less, but he's home a lot more.

"Money is not that important," says the 37-year-old Teaneck resident. "I feel the amount of time you spend with your kids is the thing you're banking, because that's something you can't really put a value on."

Many men of Weisinger's age say they are finding fatherhood more important than the suit and tie. Some are putting in fewer hours at the office, while others are switching gears entirely.

"[Children] are totally dependent on you for their well-being and livelihood and their learning and their growing up," says Paul Segura of Hazelwood, Mo., who put the brakes on his corporate ambitions so he could spend more time with his two young daughters. "For me, that is the ultimate responsibility."

The trend toward fathers being more available to their children is hardly breaking news. And it's frequently greeted with skepticism, particularly among working mothers, still shouldering the primary role in child rearing and housekeeping. But a recent study suggests that family life and traditional male-female roles really have changed substantially over the past quarter-century.

The word comes from the Families and Work Institute, which prepared a study for the American Business Collaboration, a group of high-profile companies including IBM, Johnson & Johnson and Texas Instruments.

"What we found was striking, specifically because it uncovers a marked shift in the attitudes of both women and men who are redefining their priorities in life and in work," says Ellen Galinsky, president of Families and Work Institute.

Perhaps the most evident change in attitude among men is the number of those willing to make personal trade-offs needed to advance in their careers. In 1992, about 68 percent of college-educated men wanted to move into jobs with more responsibility. A decade later, that fell to 52 percent.

Galinsky says Americans continue to work longer hours. Gen-Xers, for example, work more hours than their age group did 25 years ago, and baby boomers work the longest hours in the workforce.

"So where is the time coming from for them to spend all this time with their family?" Galinsky asks. "You see them spending less time on themselves, less time on housework. They say they don't have enough time for their spouse. And other studies have shown that they sleep less."

Segura, 40, worked as an engineer at Boeing for almost 20 years. When he started, his goal was to move into the executive ranks. But that changed after he became a father.

He's seen what other men have had to give up to get to the top, Segura says. He's seen them miss ballgames and dance recitals. Get divorced. Have heart attacks.

He decided it wasn't worth all that to achieve status.

"A bigger house, fancier car, traveling the world - those aren't as important, now that I have a family," he says. "It's a whole new mindset, really. It's getting out of the rat race."

The study points to many reasons for the shift in priorities: Young fathers today grew up with parents working in an increasingly demanding workforce and may not have liked what they saw. Many have seen others put everything into work only to lose it because of downsizing.

By the time Teaneck resident Elliot Frome was downsized from his information technology job three years ago, he'd already made changes to be more available to his son Nisaniel.

"His mother and I separated when he was 5½," says Frome, 39. "I had been working six to seven days a week, 80 hours a week or more, trying to make a name for myself with a killer job. But when we decided to separate, my life changed. I realized if I kept working those hours I would never see my son.

"So I walked into the vice president and said I had to leave early on Mondays and Wednesdays, the days I had custody, so I could be home when Nisaniel got off the school bus. He took it rather well, and I worked for that company another five or six years."

After getting laid off, Frome chose to create a home office and do independent consulting so he'd be able to chaperone class trips and coach his son's Little League team. If that decision cost him some income and prestige, he adds, so be it.

"I don't think I gave up that much," says Frome. "It's the overall quality of life that counts. Many of my friends don't get home until after their kids are asleep."

Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, 40, says he carves out time from his civic duties and a busy career as an immigration attorney to have "dates" with each of his four children.

"The very thing that's exciting to their friends - that I'm the mayor - is the very thing keeping their father away from them," observes Wildes. "So it's important that I experience life in cadence with their needs. You can't rewind and make up for it later."

Wildes admits that shooting hoops with his son, catching a movie with his 12-year-old daughter or reading to his younger children sometimes occurs at odd hours, but he stresses that these experiences occur often enough so they're not just a rare treat. "I don't want to be 'Uncle Daddy" Wildes says.

On Thursday, the mayor stayed home from work so he could attend a school birthday party for Jaclyn, who turned 5 today. Before her home party later that evening, he had some appointments with constituents, but he didn't miss the celebration. "Jaclyn knew I was taking that time for her," he says.

Weisinger says his children notice that he's home more these days. "Being around more means I discipline them more, but it also means I'm there when they need me or just want to go to 7-Eleven to get Slurpies," he says.

He was the only parent, let alone the only dad, to accompany his eighth-grade twin sons' class trip to Philadelphia and Baltimore a couple of weeks ago.

"I'm in the running for father of the year," Weisinger quipped. "Hopefully my children's gratitude will translate down the road, so they'll pick the right [nursing] home for me."




Paid for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Claudia Colbert, Treasurer