What I Want My Son to Learn About Work and Family (part 3): Family First

Our job as fathers is to equip our children to have productive, happy and meaningful lives. The best way to do so is by role-modeling the values, priorities and actions we hope they will aspire to.

At last, the finale! If you haven’t already, please read Part 1 and Part 2, which were posted last week. This article picks up where those left off.

I hope I can role-model work-family priorities for Nick as well as my father did for me
I hope I can role-model work-family priorities for Nick as well as my father did for me

Someday, and sooner than we think, my Nick (and your kids) will be making choices about their careers, marriages and families. When the time comes, I hope Nick will:

  • Choose a career that makes enough money for his life to be comfortable and so he can take care of his future family.
  • Choose a career he enjoys, finds interesting and meaningful, and through which he can make a larger contribution.
  • Understand the importance of balancing his career with that of his future life partner
  • Understand the relative importance of work and family while having a balanced set of priorities.

In the prior articles, I focused on the first three bullet points, Today, I’ll focus on the fourth.

One day, I hope Nick will be a father, and while I want him to value his own (part 1) and his spouse’s career (part 2), I really want him to know that family comes first. As in the case of the other lessons I’ve discussed, this is not a lesson that is taught effectively through words. I hope that, by seeing how I try to juggle work and family, he sees a role model for himself- just like I did when observing my father. This article is much more about my father than it is about me.

4. Work has its place, but is never more important than family

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What I Want My Son to Learn About Work and Family (part 2): My Wife’s Career is as Important as Mine

Our job as fathers is to equip our children to have productive, happy and meaningful lives. In my opinion, the best way to do so is by role-modeling the values, priorities and actions to which we hope they will aspire.

I hope I can role-model good work-family values for my son
I hope I can role-model good work-family values for my son
One day, I hope Nick will get married, and I want him to value not just his own career, but also the career of his life partner. This is not a lesson that is taught effectively through words. I hope that, by seeing how supportive I am of my wife Amy (and she is of me), he will seek out a supportive spouse and that he will value his spouse’s career as much as his own.

First off, if you haven’t already, please read Part 1, which I posted on Monday. This article picks up where that one left off.

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What I Want My Son to Learn About Work and Family (part 1)

What lessons about work and family should we be role-modeling for our children?

For me, I hope my son learns that work can bring fulfillment, meaning, and opportunities to help others- not just money. I also hope he learns that work-family balance means family first and that his career priorities should take his future spouse/family’s needs into account.

I hope I can role-model good work-family values for my son
I hope I can role-model good work-family values for my son

Young kids don’t fully understand why we sometimes have to be away from them and at work. They know they miss us, and they can get resentful- it’s only natural. In response, it is easy to say that we work for money- to buy them things- and that we’d rather not work and just be with them.

It’s a comforting story in the moment, but I bet it is not entirely true for most of us- and I think it actually sends a very different signal than what we should be sending.

Someday, and sooner than we think, my Nick* (and your kids) will be making choices about their careers. And I’d rather he understand that work is not JUST a chore, and not JUST about money. Right now, he wants to be a Jedi (he’d be really good at this!), baseball player, geologist, waiter and circus performer. But when the time comes, I want him:

  • To choose a career that makes enough money for his life to be comfortable and so he can take care of his future family.
  • To choose a career he enjoys, finds interesting and meaningful, and through which he can make a larger contribution.
  • To understand the importance of balancing his career with that of his future life partner (see part 2)
  • To understand the relative importance of work and family and of working towards a balanced set of priorities. 

I once heard a quote that “the best way to teach your son to be a man, is to be a good man and let him watch”.

This is why I am very mindful about sending signals to my son about the importance of both work and family. These are hard things to teach directly in words, but I try to get these lessons through by my actions and by how I talk about work when he is around. Here’s what I hope he learns from me:

1. Work is for money, and money is important.

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Taking A Break From Parenting Benefits Everyone (or, In Praise of “Me” Time For Dads)

X-2 hours a week of effective, involved parenting > X hours of distracted or stressed-out parenting

If we never get away, they’ll never get the chance to miss us. If we never put ourselves first, they’ll take for granted we’re always there. If we don’t put on our oxygen masks on first, we can’t help them with theirs.

Sometimes it has to be all about you
Sometimes it has to be all about you

When you criticize guys for playing golf and fantasy football, you are bound to get some brushback. I totally understand that, even if those articles were written more as humor pieces than serious dad advice.

If you’ve been following the blog, you may have seen my articles about “Time Sucks to Avoid.” Leisure time is crucial- but IMO, golf and fantasy football are two activities that take up too much time away from work or family relative to their psychological and social benefits. I recommended that dads find other outlets that don’t take up so much valuable time.

When the anti-golf piece was reprinted at the Good Men Project online men’s magazine, I was struck by an incredibly insightful comment:

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Oakland A’s Slugger Brandon Moss Takes Paternity Leave

The First Paternity Leave of the 2013 Major League Baseball Season- The Oakland A’s Brandon Moss

Oakland Athletics' Brandon Moss is a new dad taking paternity leave- he can also hit a little (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Oakland Athletics’ Brandon Moss is a new dad taking paternity leave- he can also hit a little (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

It is only 72 hours, but it’s a step in the right direction. Baseball’s policy, unique among major sports, represents a formal endorsement of the concept of paternity leave.

Prior to this policy, players were often excused for a day or two by their teams- but it was totally at management’s discretion, and the team would have to play with the disadvantage of one fewer player on the roster until the new dad returned.

Now, teams can call up a player from their minor league system to replace the new dad on the roster for the 2-3 games he misses and the team cannot deny up to a 72-hour leave.

… and, of course, congratulations to Brandon Moss and his wife!

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Expert Perspectives: The Dual-Career Mojo that Makes Couples Thrive

To make dual careers work, a couple needs to be on the same page regarding their career and life goals and how they will support each other in achieving them. Here are four strategies from Dr. Monique Valcour for developing and maintaining an effective dual-career partnership.

A consistent theme on this blog (see here, here, and here) is the need for couples to work together to set their priorities about their family life as well as their own individual work and life goals. Then, couples need to constantly communicate and support each other. No matter what arrangement couples decide on, the key is to see that the kids’ needs are met and the couple supports each other.

My friend and colleague Dr. Monique Valcour is a leading expert in work-life issues, and she was kind enough to let me repost an amazing piece she recently wrote on her blog at Harvard Business Review (I also highly recommend her twitter feed). Her article pulls together a lot of what I’ve written about and packs it into one amazing piece.

Friend and Work-Life Expert Monique Valcour has some great advice for dual-career couples
Friend and Work-Life Expert Monique Valcour has some great advice for dual-career couples

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Expert Q&A with Dr. Mark Promislo on Materialism and Work-Family Conflict

(or, The Dangers of Valuing Money More than People)

Mark Promislo is a husband, father of two young girls, and a management professor at Rider University (and a friend, but most importantly an active blog reader and commenter!), who recently authored a great study on the effects of materialism on work-family conflict. I asked him a few questions about his life, his work, and his study– which I think has implications for working dads.

Mark's research shows the negative effects of valuing material possessions on work-family balance and well-being
Mark’s research shows the negative effects of valuing material possessions on work-family balance and well-being

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Book Review: “A Father First” by NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade

A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball” is NBA superstar Dwyane Wade’s memoir about his upbringing, life in basketball, the battle he fought for custody of his sons, and fatherhood.

"A Father First" by Dwayne Wade is an inspiring story about overcoming adversity, fatherhood, and, o yeah, a little basketball
“A Father First” by Dwayne Wade is an inspiring story about fatherhood, overcoming adversity and, o yeah, a little basketball

I never liked Dwyane Wade. He always seemed to me a borderline dirty player who intimidated referees and constantly drew attention to himself. No one can deny his skill and work ethic, however, and some of my negative perceptions, I must admit, are based on his beating down my beloved Knicks (55 points at MSG in March 2009) and the self-aggrandizing persona of the Miami Heat’s “Big Three” (and don’t get me started about The Miami Heat- my enmity for them goes back to the Pat Riley betrayal of 1995 and the Jeff-Van-Gundy-attached-to-the-leg-of-Alonzo-Mourning fight of 1998).

After reading “A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball”, Wade’s memoir about his upbringing, life in basketball, and the battle he fought for custody of his sons, I have come to admire Dwyane Wade as a man and role model.

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