Hey Dads: Year-Long Presence Is the Best Christmas Present

Our kids may want things, but they NEED time with their fathers. This Christmas, instead of stuff, we should give our kids the opportunities to do more fun things with us. Here are a few ideas.

Regardless of what you and your kids like to do, why not have Santa give you more opportunities to do them together

The best gift you can give your kids is your consistent presence. Happily, instead of buying your kids the latest junky plastic thingamabob they have their eye on, we can use Christmas (or Hanukkah) gifts as a as an excuse to purchase things that create opportunities for time together. Here are a few suggestions:

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Why Don’t More Men Walk The Talk on Work-Family?

When surveyed, dads overwhelmingly say that they would prefer to share childcare and housework relatively equally with their spouses, and would prefer to use flexibility and parental leave to better balance work and family. However, the data show that while men have made significant progress on both fronts, our actions do not match our intentions–leaving us more “locked into” work and less involved at home than we’d like.

I was lucky that my  career, "paternity leave" experience and family dynamics were conducive to my being a very involved dad.
I was lucky that my career, employer flexibility and family dynamics were conducive to my being a very involved dad.

There are a few reasons for this mismatch. While corporate cultures and lack of societal support are major problems, it is also true that we sometimes get in our own way. Here’s a quick rundown of the barriers today’s dads face, including some advice on how we may be able to change our situations (future posts will dive more deeply into each topic).

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Fathers, Work and No Family: What I Learned From My Week Alone

Amy and Nick are spending the week out in California, visiting her brother and his family. Because my semester starts next week, I had to stay home to ramp up my class preparation and attend too many meetings.

Home alone...
Home alone…

This means I am in the middle of a week with pretty much no family responsibilities or time constraints. As I most often write about balancing fatherhood with work and other life roles, I am finding this family-free time to be an interesting experiment.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far from this experience.

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How Paternity Leave Shaped Me As a Father and Strengthened My Family

I was fortunate to have been able to spend the first few months of my son’s life at home with him and my wife. How this experience shaped me as a father and husband.

 My paternity leave fundamentally shaped me as a person, parent and spouse, and I believe it contributed to the strength and resiliency of my family. I wish all fathers and families had the same opportunity
My paternity leave fundamentally shaped me as a person, parent and spouse, and I believe it contributed to the strength and resiliency of my family. I wish all fathers and families had the same opportunity

I didn’t exactly take a paternity leave. I’m a college professor and my son, Nick, was born three days after my last final exam of the Spring semester. Perfect timing (although we didn’t actually plan it that way). I was able to spend the summer on a “de-facto paternity leave” with my wife, Amy, and Nick as we all got to learn how this whole “baby makes three” thing would shake out.

Here are four ways I benefitted from the opportunity to be present during the first few months of Nick’s life:

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Building Father-Child Memories That Last

If we want to be remembered as good dads, we have to both put in the hard work of being a good father and also carve out time for fun, memorable shared experiences with our kids. Here are some ideas on how to maximize the latter.

Star Wars is one of our family traditions
Star Wars is one of our family traditions

Flying in an airplane is much safer than covering the same distance riding in a car. Yet, most people are more afraid of flying than driving. One of the main reasons why is “Availability Bias,” in which things that are easier to call to mind (like the rare plane crash that is all over the news) are given greater weight than things that are less memorable (like the thousands of car crashes a day).

Most of the time, the availability bias is a problem that leads us to make faulty decisions regarding risk (at the beach, we may be more concerned with shark attacks than skin cancer; after watching Law & Order SVU, we vastly overestimate the incidence of child abduction, etc.). But we can also use this quirk of human memory to our advantage.

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The Best Way to Think About Work-Family Balance (Balanced Diet, Not a See-Saw)

The Benefits of Thinking About “Work-Family Balance” as a “Balanced Diet” instead of a “Balance Beam.”

Balance, as in a balanced diet... (photo: flickr, labeled for noncommercial reuse)
Balance, as in a balanced diet… (all photos: flickr, labeled for noncommercial reuse)

A balanced diet means that we eat enough of different types of food without eating too much of certain categories. Similarly, a full life means that we must tend to various parts of our lives (family, work, health, relationships, friends, hobbies, exercise, etc.), all of which are important parts of a whole.

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Idiots Mike Francesa, Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton Are So Very Very Wrong About MLB Paternity Leave

Idiots Mike Francesa, Craig Carton and Boomer Esiason said awful things in reaction to the Mets’ Daniel Murphy’s recent paternity leave. Their ugly, ignorant remarks are a disgrace and need to be repudiated in the strongest possible terms.

Boomer and Carton are idiots
Boomer and Carton are idiots

The wife of NY Mets’ second baseman Daniel Murphy went into labor just before opening day. He missed their first game of the season, and may miss one or two more. As I have reported here at FWF multiple times, MLB is the first major league sport to provide players with up to 72 hours of paternity leave. I am on record that this policy sends an important public signal about the importance of fatherhood.

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The Time is Right For the FAMILY Act- Paid Parental Leave

The FAMILY act would create a national policy of paid parental leave. Why I think this is a great idea.

I was extremely fortunate to spend the first few months of Nick's life at home. I hope that more dads become able to take paternity leave to have similar experiences
I was extremely fortunate to spend the first few months of Nick’s life at home. I hope that more dads become able to take paternity leave to have similar experiences

When I was on NPR last week (you can listen here) to discuss paternity leave, we took lots of great phone calls from listeners. Most callers lamented their lack of available paternity leave.

One caller, however, had lived in Montreal, where new dads are entitled to up to 5 weeks of paid leave, with wage replacement up to 70% of one’s earnings. It is no wonder that more than 80 percent of new dads in Quebec take paternity leave. (for more on the benefits of paternity leave, see here)

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