/ Provisional Balances: Fathers' Perceptions of the Politics and Dynamics of Involvement in Family and Career Development


Forty fathers were interviewed concerning their perceptions of the balances between paternal involvement in child rearing, commitment to work, career trajectories, and company policies toward father involvement in family matters. The multifaceted and simultaneously synergistic and antagonistic nature of fathering and working was highlighted. Some issues that influenced the complex provisional balances between work and family were micro-policies, macro-factors such as education and income, and fathers' personal cost-benefit analyses. The data refute common misconceptions about fatherhood. Ultimately, it appears that flexible implementation of micro policies at the "local" level is what is needed to help fathers to arrive at positive balances between providing and involvement at home.

Key Words: paternal involvement, work-family policies, fathers, career development

    1. This research was supported by a grant to the first author from the General University Research Fund, the College of Human Resources, and the Department of Individual and Family Studies at the University of Delaware. The Medical Research Institute of Delaware provided valuable support in completing this project. The authors are indebted to Tara Woolfolk, Kerry Daly, and Jen Molinaro for comments on an earlier draft of this paper.return to text

    2. Rob Palkovitz, Ph.D., is Associate Professor, Department of Individual and Family Studies, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware, 19716-1301. Electronic mail may be sent via Internet to robp@udel.edu.return to text

    3. Shawn Christiansen is Assistant Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Pennsylvania State University, Worthington Scranton.return to text

    4. Christian Dunn is an undergraduate student, Department of Individual and Family Studies, University of Delaware.return to text

    Contemporary literature often emphasizes the new "culture of fatherhood" (LaRossa, 1988), highlighting care giving and nurturant interactions between fathers and their children (Robinson & Barret, 1986; Rotundo, 1985). Because work and family compete for a father's time and attention (Cohen, 1993; Lamb, Pleck & Levine, 1987; Levine & Pittinsky, 1997), a father's investment in paid employment can be portrayed as an escape from involvement at home (Hochschild, 1997). While this may be true in some cases, this view neither captures the complex interactions between the multiple roles that fathers fulfill as they care for the needs of their families nor the struggles men face in balancing career development and involvement as fathers.

    This qualitative study represents a selected portion of an open-ended, structured interview with 40 demographically diverse men ranging in age from 22 to 45 years (mean age 34.68 years, s.d. 6.88 years). Men were interviewed concerning their perceptions of changes in their life course and personality attributable to fathering. This report examines the balances between paternal involvement in child rearing, commitment to work, career trajectories, company policies toward father involvement in family matters, and men's perceptions of supports and obstacles to involvement represented in the interface between the home and the workplace. Of particular interest are fathers' perceptions of the dialectics of involvement in family and workplace.

    To qualify for inclusion in the sample, fathers could have children of any age and the children could be biological, adopted, stepchildren or fictive kin. The fathers could be either co-resident or living in another household. The sample represented diversity in ethnicity, education, occupational achievement and status, degree of paternal involvement in child rearing, and father's age at time of first child's birth. The average father in the sample had two biological children (mean = 1.98, s.d. .83). Ten of the forty men fathered a total of 19 stepchildren (range 1-4, mean 1.90 stepchildren per stepfather). The average age of firstborn biological children was 10.00 years (s.d. 6.23), and the average age at the time of men's transitions to fatherhood was 26.15 years (s.d. 5.03 years). For further demographic information, please refer to Table 1.

    Table 1. Demographic Characteristics Summary
    African American8
    Less than High School1
    High School/G.E.D.7
    Some College15
    2 Year College Degree4
    4 Year College Degree5
    Graduate Course work3
    Masters' Degree3
    Doctoral Course work1
    Doctoral Degree1
    No Preference6
    Assemblies of God1
    Evangelical Free1
    $ 0-10,0004

    A series of structured open-ended questions concerning the relationships between work and father involvement was asked during the course of 1.5- to 2-hour face-to-face interviews exploring a wide range of fathering issues. Questions concerning work occurred approximately 15 to 20 minutes into the interview. The first work-related questions were open-ended with more focused follow-up questions following. Although the interviewer used a flexible interview schedule, the general flow of questions was as follows:

    1. In terms of your work history or career, what impact, if any, has fathering had on your work?
    2. Have there been occasions where you have had to call in or take time off of work because of the children? Have there been consequences for that?
    3. Do you feel that if you had never had children that your career would be further along, just as far along as it is now, or not as advanced as it is now? Why do you say this?
    4. Do you have any other thoughts on how work and fathering interact?

    Analyses indicated that there are diverse paths in experiencing and balancing strains arising from simultaneously occupying husband-father, provider, and worker roles (Cohen & Durst, 1996; Cazenave; 1979, Palkovitz, 1994). While work trajectories of the men interviewed tended to show long-term stability, there were considerable vacillations in the short-run. It appeared that men reached "provisional balances" in the way they juggled responsibilities at work and at home that resulted in both the long-term stability and the short-term fluctuations noted above. While career trajectories remained relatively stable, there was considerable short term variability in terms of involvement at work and home that reflected immediate needs or deadlines. The exception to long term stability, discussed below, occurred in some men who experienced a fatherhood "snap" (Daniels and Weingarten, 1982) resulting in distinctive priority shifts in the importance of providing relative to other roles.

    It became apparent that both work and family could "feed" or detract from one another. Simply stated, fathers perceived both positive and negative effects of work on families and of families on work. The perceived dialectics greatly affected men's satisfaction in the provisional balances they had achieved. Specifically, men talked about skills gained through fatherhood experiences as feeding their career development. Similarly, material provisions, security, benefits, job prestige, and flexible schedules at the workplace contributed positively to family functioning. On the negative side, family difficulties could be a distraction at work and "bringing work home" (physically, mentally or emotionally), working long hours, and lack of flexibility in the workplace negatively impacted men while carrying out their fathering roles (Bolger, DeLongis, Kessler & Wethington, 1989; Hall & Richter, 1988).

    The Provider Role

    The prevalence of the provider role (Christiansen & Palkovitz, 1997) was apparent in men's thinking about fatherhood and working. They frequently stated both the need to be working, and the need to be working in a job that provided security and necessary benefits. After having children, work took on greater meaning and held a place of increased importance in men's thinking. Chris[1] (25, AA)[2]2 the biological father of a three year old and stepfather of two teenage children spoke about how having a family motivates one to work more consistently:

    Well, if you have family, you do have to work. If I didn't have a family, I wouldn't have to work. You could lounge around...really wasn't no push to work. If you got family, you got to provide for that family. So you definitely work more hours, work harder and be loyal to the company, I guess. . . But before, you could be —" I don't feel like going to work," and you didn't have to get up and go to work since you had no kids, no family. Now that you got kids or whatever, even if you don't feel like it, you gots to still get up and go.

    Similarly, Alan (39, C), a full-time bank clerk and father of two children under 3 years of age discussed how becoming a father had given more meaning to his work and had guided job selection and commitment:

    It's had a great impact because, before I had children, the jobs that I had were jobs that had no meaning. They were just, I guess, to get along so that I'd have things to do. Since I've had children I've had to, I guess, plant my feet and try and find out if — get a job where I know that I want to move along and make it into a career, knowing that I just can't work, I guess, say, work for three weeks and then decide I'm not going to go work anymore, or work maybe a day and decide that's not for me. I have to take a job where — I'm in a job now that has advancements. I'm putting my mind to it stating that I'm going to stay with it and move on, and it's what I'm going to do. It's what I want to do for the rest of my life, you know, to move up. It's a career move that I've made.

    Although the previous quotes place positive emphases on increased commitment to working, at times providing is portrayed as a necessary evil: It is needed for economic sake, but it is not viewed as involvement because it prohibits or constrains fathers from being involved in the changing culture of the new "nurturant") father (Palkovitz, 1997; Robinson & Barret, 1986; Stearns, 1991). Recently, Deinhart and Daly (1997) have elegantly argued that the "culture of work" is one of a number of "informal and formal mechanisms that usurp the the primacy of fathering in men's lives" (p. 149). When couples first become parents, many mothers limit work or stop completely. This decrease in income occurs simultaneously with increased economic demands. To compensate for the loss of the mother's income and the new expenses of parenthood, many fathers increase their commitment to work. This increased commitment often means more time at work and less time at home (Belsky & Kelley, 1994).

    In regard to the perceived effect of fathering on work history and advancements, three distinct pathways were observed: Since becoming fathers, some men experienced increased commitment to and involvement in work because of their focus on responsibility for provision and modeling a good work ethic. In contrast, other men had come to the realization that work was not as important to them as the time they could spend with their developing children, and as a consequence, reported decreased commitment to work in terms of time and energy invested. A third group maintained that fatherhood had no noticeable effect on their work histories.


    Those men who reported that fathering had caused either an increase or a decrease in career advancement or work trajectory described shifts in priorities. Those who perceived greater commitment to work cited the need for steady income, job security, and the prevalence of the provider role in fatherhood. Their children provided a "push," "drive," or commitment to work that these men had—for various reasons—failed to develop before becoming fathers. Bruce (25, C), a full-time office manager with two pre-school aged children and a full-time employed wife addressed the increased importance of work after having children:

    You try harder at work because with the kids it's like that responsibility, that other thing, that everything matters more now. If you fail, then you know that it counts more. I mean, that's a lot more responsibility on your shoulders or whatever.

    John (39, C), a recently unemployed corrections officer commented that having children provided a reason for working. His construction of providing includes a sense of involvement (Palkovitz, 1997; Christiansen & Palkovitz, 1997) and extends beyond self advancement to the ability to be generous in gift giving:

    I think it made me want to work. When I was working it made me want to work really for, I think, I guess, for them, really. Not so much just when you're paying support or something, but for things that they need, and you want to support your family, so you do it for that purpose. That's your major goal once you get married, not so much for your self advancement.. . And now that they're there. . . you want to get extra things, especially during the holiday seasons and things like Christmas. .. So it did have an effect that way, me working extra for them.

    Those who reported less advancement or commitment to work had also experienced priority shifts: They wished to spend more time with their families. Some men described conscious decisions to enter the "daddy track" and an unwillingness to "sacrifice" their families for the sake of advancing their status at work. The following quote is from Anthony (39, C), a union auto worker:

    Well, I just place the children before it [work]. If they're sick and they need to go some where, well then I won't go [to work], I don't care...before I used to show up everyday...because that's what they pay me to do. I used to have a pretty strong loyalty to [the company] until I got a little bit older and realized what it was all about. That you're just a head as they call you. That's all you are they don't really care. Since I became a father, as I said many times, the kids come first. If something happens and I have to leave the job, I leave the job and go, I don't care.

    Acknowledging providing as involvement in meeting the needs of the family may help fathers find a balance between the two extremes of provider "role rejecters" and provider "role overperformers" (Bernard, 1981). Provider role rejecters either abandon or underplay the importance of the provider role. Provider role overperformers are "intoxicated" with work at the expense of their family lives and define economic providing as their primary or only way of being involved in their families. Provider role overperformers need to acknowledge the importance of other means of providing in the home—cognitively, affectively, and behaviorally (Palkovitz, 1997). Provider role underperformers need to be encouraged to view economic providing as a legitimate and important way to be involved as fathers. If economic providing can be viewed as one element in a vast array of ways to be involved as a father, men can be challenged to ask "what is most needed or what is necessary?" (Bernard, 1981). In some cases, or at some time, the appropriate answer may indicate greater involvement at home, while in other cases, or at other times, greater commitment to work. Balances between family and work involvement are truly provisional.

    John (38, C), a refinery operator with children aged 8 and 10, explicitly addressed the tensions between involvement in providing versus home and placed a higher priority on fathering than on career advancement. He stated:

    Well, it's made me not willing to sacrifice my family for my work. I've had opportunities for promotions and transfers that I've turned down because it would have adversely affected the family. And in a way, I paid for it in one area, because I could be making a lot more money than I am now in another job, but it wasn't worth it. And so I've probably stunted myself a little bit in that regard in going up the corporate ladder Because I'm just not willing to take the time away from my family that is required to do that. So it's had a pretty big impact.

    One of the more interesting descriptions came from Glen (34, C), a marketing executive with some graduate education. He was aware of career sacrifices he had made in order to be more involved at home. Glen used his engineering background to calibrate his career advancement in comparison to a cohort of peers. He created a benchmark methodology and tied it to self-assessment by responding to the open-ended question of how fathering effected his work in the following manner:

    I'm on the daddy track. There's a mommy track and there's a daddy track too . . . I've been working for [the company] for 13 years and, I know the people that started at the same time and within a year of me, with the same background, that is, four year engineering degree... . Now 13 years later I'm able to see probably still 25% of those people, so its maybe 4 to 6 people that I still see on a, couple times a year basis. And I see where they are and where I am. And I attribute that, in part, to my conviction and this overwhelming feeling of fatherhood. . . Somewhere along the line when fatherhood came along, the family priority just went to the top. There's, there's, nothing that's going to displace that. And so, now that I've been in the work place for 6 years since having Kelsey and I've been able so successfully do that and keep myself at peace. But I also see that I'm at least a half level and in some cases a full level and a half behind those people that I was talking about. And the reason is because, in my view, I go to the kids doctors appointments during the day and I'm talking about routine check-ups... I try and see them occasionally for lunch when they're at the sitters or my wife's got 'em and we go out to lunch. So, I think I take time away from the normal work place environment to make sure that I go out of my way and spend a lot of time with them, just for routine things. I've scheduled trips around family events. I've canceled trips or refused to go around family events. And I think in the work place sometimes that can be misinterpreted as a lack of commitment to work and so I think in some sense, kind of how I'm describing the daddy track. I think I do an outstanding job and I have no doubt that I could be that level in a half higher if I was classified as a workaholic. But I've got a commitment to the family number one and work will follow. I've been kind of put on a medium track, that says, there's still progress, there's still room to move. But you're not going to be a corporate officer at that rate.

    Neil (34, C), a trucking contractor, who engaged in considerable volunteer work while raising three young children with his part-time employed wife, had experienced a particularly jarring shift in focus:

    I came to a point less than 6 years ago, I guess, just a little less than 6 years ago where I had to make that decision. I was working too much. I was trying to please my own father in our own business and was coming to a point of becoming quite successful, or the potential for good success financially and business-wise, and all... but I was still struggling, struggling at home with my wife because I wasn't meeting her needs and I wasn't meeting the girls' needs and I was having a hard time. And it came right down to it and she said, "I'm leaving," and I said, "Go ahead and go" because I had my goals. And as I sat there. . . I thought, this is not what I want to do. I have two children that mean more to me than this business does, maybe mean more to me than my wife does, to be quite honest, and if I lose this opportunity to be their dad—even though I may get all the things I wanted, I failed. I felt that inside. . . It was mostly my kids that I thought about. I thought, I don't want to do this to my kids. My kids need a dad and they need a good dad, so what do I do? So I had to make a choice. And my choice was to leave the business and patch things up with my wife who I really did love...and to commit myself to being a good dad to my kids.

    It was painfully clear to men in the sample that they had to make decisions about how to invest their time and energy in order to balance the need for involvement at home while providing adequately for the material needs of their families.


    Of particular interest was the finding that men tend to discuss the work of fathering in terms of the overall set of tasks required—that is, they consider providing to be part of the total package of parenting, and that it also includes housework and child care (Palkovitz, 1996; Christiansen & Palkovitz, 1997). When fathers look at their involvement in child rearing, they consider paid work to be a part of the total picture. Interestingly enough, it is clear that for many fathers, these assumptions are implicit as opposed to explicit. That is, they never had discussed these issues with their wives because assumptions were made concerning the division of providing and household labor. In America, men are expected to be gainfully employed.

    Balancing the full responsibilities of provider, worker, and involved father is difficult, costly, and precarious. Contemporary fathers view their roles as more multifaceted than fathers of a generation ago (LaRossa, 1988; Palkovitz, 1997; Christiansen & Palkovitz, 1997). Glen, the marketing executive who described the "daddy track," expressed frustration at the fact that—although he had made sacrifices at work to be more involved at home—he was still the "second team" in terms of providing nurturance:

    And I'd say that one of the frustrating aspects for me is no matter how I want to be an equal in that sense. I'm only the best back up I can possibly be. Kind of a reverse of the financial situation although she works part-time and contributes to the income. We'd never be able to afford the house, the cars, the college on her salaries. So at best she's good strong contributor, but a back up from the financial stand point. And, I guess, I'm frustrated that I don't ever see any way to be that strong equal contributor. There's just not a possible way.

    Diversification of role investments can "cost" a person the specialization that brings recognized expertise. From one perspective, this is the "worst of both worlds"—Glen discussed taking the "daddy track" and yet being the second string at home, failing to see any way to get beyond that status. So, in a sense, he sacrificed his career success and advancement for the less than satisfying experience of being a good backup at home. Another view of the same situation is much more optimistic—that he had the best of both worlds: While having a career that provides for his family's material needs, he experiences moderate job success (and reduced job stress from neither taking on additional responsibilities, nor from not having necessities) and still has the opportunity to experience involved fatherhood. While he did not specialize in either, thus limiting his achievement, he was able to experience moderately high fulfillment in a range of involved fatherhood roles—both provider and nurturer.

    A particularly sharp analysis of the conflicts experienced in balancing work and family commitments was provided by Bill (39, C), a full-time lab technician with two children ages 10 and 15 and a full-time employed spouse:

    There is [sic] some conflicts, like the hours. When I am at work it's this, the kid school hours, and if something takes place, well, I've gotta leave work to go. I feel obligated to stay, but then I feel obligated that I have to go too, you know. Course I want to go. I like to see the kids in their activities, but. . . I sort of feel a lot of responsibility toward my work too. I don't like to leave things hanging.

    The interviewer comments: "So there is a tension there?"

    Bill responds: Yes. It's like a double-edged sword. If you give up one, you are going to burn on the other, you know. So it's a no win situation so I kind of play happy medium between both. You know...

    Clearly, men felt the press of both work and family and needed to assess the relative importance of the various demands and balance their commitments to work and family based on their read of the situation. As fathers experienced conflicting pulls from both home and work, it was clear that there was an array of contextual issues influencing the decisions they implemented to achieve the needed balance.

    The Role of "Micro-Policies" in Provisional Balances

    Although explicit national or corporate policy may reflect "family friendly" postures, there are conditions in the corporate culture—or unwritten rules—that convey to men not to take paternity leave or to be "too involved" with their families, or they will be viewed as uncommitted to their jobs and perceived as unmasculine (Hwang, 1987; Lawson, 1991; Pleck, 1993). A 1996 report of the Ford Foundation addresses the need to change not only corporate policies but also attitudes, reducing "dissonance between policy and practice" (p. 21). While work/family policies have traditionally been viewed as "women's issues," the following quotes illustrate that men invested in balancing work and family involvements have as much to gain from changes in corporate culture as do women. Work policy has addressed the fact that women have dual roles and responsibilities (Cohen, 1993), partly because women have traditionally been labeled as care givers and fathers have not (Piotrkowsky, Rapoport & Rapoport, 1987). Work policies often do not address the fact that fathers also have multiple roles and responsibilities (Cohen, 1993; Grimm-Thomas & Perry-Jenkins, 1994; Hall & Richter, 1988). As Bronstein (1988) notes, "the workplace is less tolerant of men than women taking time off from work for child care, and that society still does not sanction men's putting their family equal to or ahead of their career" (p. 5). Given contemporary patterns of dual career families, work/family issues are no longer strictly women's" issues or "men's" issues—they are central to the everyday functioning of men, women, and children.

    Wilson (38, C) an upper middle-class father with two teen-aged children explained how a clash of values on the local level could create difficulties at the work place. Wilson's comments, along with those of several other men in the sample made it clear that policies on the "local" level were more important than corporate or national policies when it came to facilitating or hindering responsibilities in the interface between home and the work place:

    Before I had children I'd work long hours, but now, sometimes I'd have to get home to take one of the kids to something after school. So that had an impact on my work. And actually I got into a problem at work one time because I worked for a lady who didn't understand that I had to get home sometimes, you know. So that was a conflict. Sometimes people that don't have children or their children are grown-up, they don't understand... So yeah, it did obviously affect my work environment. Well, because I spent a lot of time with my children that I normally otherwise would be at work, you know what I'm saying. I was a workaholic before we had children, so my expectations changed. I like to spend time with my children.

    Robert (39, C), a father with two teenaged children and a young infant, left a demanding managerial position to become a truck driver. He notes that there are both costs and benefits to such decisions:

    I sent maybe 12 to 15 years in the retail management world. During that time, I was working 8 o'clock in the morning till 9 or 10, 11 o'clock at night. Five, 6, and sometimes 7 days a week. About five to six years ago, I gave this up. The reason I gave it up, it was excellent money, but the reason that I gave it up was, my children were growing up overnight, and I wasn't really getting to spend a lot of time with them. So I gave this up, took a lesser paying job, which did not help us. I mean, it worked out in both ways. It was a negative by the fact that it was a lesser paying job, but it was a positive in the fact that I was spending more time with my children. So its kind of leveled and equaled itself out since then.

    Men who were employed in settings where there was a mismatch between their own and their employer's views concerning the importance of father-involvement expressed the greatest ambivalence about work. Though they recognized the necessity of steady income, they lamented working for an employer that did not share their values concerning parental investment. Means of coping with the perceived mismatch varied considerably from father to father. What became clear was that "micro policies" (implementation of policies on the local level; i.e., immediate supervisor and co-workers spouse, and personal levels) were more important than governmental of corporate policies in affecting men's perceived achievement. Some viewed the tensions caused by attempting to balance work and family commitments to be unfortunate but necessary (and temporary) conditions. Others distanced themselves from their employer or, at times, from their families in order to reduce the tensions. Greatest satisfaction was expressed by men who perceived that they were in control of their decisions concerning how to balance work and family commitments.


    There was a difference in the mean demographics of the groups: Those experiencing greater commitment to work tended to be less well educated and to have lower family gross annual incomes than men reporting less commitment to work (Cazenave, 1979; Cohen, 1993). On the average, men reporting greater commitment to work since having children were two years of education and $10,000 per year "behind" men reporting decreased commitment to work. As such, those reporting less commitment to work were likely to be men who had met the basic provisional needs of the family and were now focused on investing time and energy into their families. This finding parallels research by Zussman (1987), who studied middle class fathers in New England working as engineers. He found that these men did not find a source of identity in their work, but saw work as a way to support their families.

    Clearly, education serves as a mediator in the above findings. Specifically, it is often assumed or stated that involved fathering is a phenomenon of the middle class and above. Education is seen as key because of greater sensitivity or enlightenment of the middle class fathers. However, education is confounded with income, and the pervasiveness of the provider role for fathers may keep working class men from having the option of greater "face time" involvement with their children.

    It appeared to be the case that men who had perceived that they had "enough") money to meet the real material needs of their families were making decisions about how to invest more time and energy in their families and less in their work. On the contrary, those who were not meeting the basic material needs of their families invested extra time and effort at the workplace to get "enough." As such, education may not have as much to do with "enlightenment" as it does with practical reality. Some men had made the "choice" of investing in their children at the cost of "self advancement" years before, when they had decided to curtail their schooling in order to provide financially for their children. The consequences of such choices were often long-term, as related by Steve (35, C), a computer operator who was an early-timing father, having his first of four children when he was 19 years old:

    I think I would have been further along. And the reason for—and of course that's a big if—if I had completed college, and gotten at least a four-year degree...even though I probably would have been suffering with immaturity for a longer period of time...I think I probably could have started off at a position probably in any company that I would like to work up to right now. . . I think it's more difficult because I limited myself in education before starting to work...I blame myself for letting myself get into a situation where I couldn't go to college and probably some people would consider that a poor excuse, well, yeah, you could have still gone to school, hard as hell, sure, some people can do it but I don't think I could have.

    Working class fathers are sometimes criticized for their traditional values, their focus on the provider role, and their lack of nurturance. Perhaps in contrast they should be applauded for the dedication with which they pursue providing (Christiansen & Palkovitz, 1997).


    Men spontaneously discuss the developmental benefits of fatherhood—and the relative initiative of fathering versus work in moving them along their own maturational paths, While fathers recognized that their commitment to their families may have "cost" them in terms of job advancement, they recognized gains in personal development (Hawkins, Christiansen, Sargent & Hill, 1993; Palkovitz, 1996) that were perceived as more than off setting these. Ned elaborates:

    If I'd never had children I would be much further along, and I'd be much higher, and I'd have more money and all that. But I wouldn't be as happy. I wouldn't change anything, really.

    Similarly, Nelson (32, H), a single dad with two children 5 and 7 years old provided a cost-benefits analysis in favor of investing in children versus career:

    Oh, I'd be way beyond this as far as career was concerned. As personal growth is concerned, I couldn't touch it without the children. I've grown personally more than I could ever expect to have grown with the children than without. But career-wise, I could have excelled way beyond where I'm at now.


    The themes expressed by the men in this study raise important issues that refute an existing set of assumptions:

    1. That men are as involved in the home as they want to be. Some men may have the desire to engage in more direct involvement with their children but may not see clear to do so in terms of limited time, money and energy. There are practical limitations to involvement. Some of them are institutional (wage inequity, corporate policy, the culture of the provider role, educational limitations), and some are personal (perceived needs, pace of work, energy levels, priority setting).
    2. That men use employment as an excuse to "buy out" care giving or housework responsibilities. But does this go beyond gender (Hochschild, 1997)? Some men discussed being the "on call" or more primary parent because their working wives had jobs that had less flexible schedules or more demanding supervisors. When the mother's job was the primary provision of income, this was particularly pronounced. As such, wage inequity puts men and women on unequal ground in their abilities to balance nurturer and worker roles. While men are more often "guilty" of being less flexible, there may be structural barriers beyond gender that explain at least part of the difference.
    3. That policy will fix things. The less than overwhelming response to Sweden's family leave policies (Haas, 1993) is disheartening. It makes it clear that policies may affect things over time: long term changes in expectations and changing the range of acceptable or expected behaviors. However, the current study indicates that "policies" on the local level may exert a greater influence on men's perceptions of the relative harmony or disharmony of work-family interfaces. Specifically, their "local" supervisors are more important in affecting their family-work interfaces than are corporate policies. Similarly, their spouse/partner's "policies" (e.g., role expectations) are more important than governmental ones in the daily experience of friction or support. As such, it may be instructive to view fathers', mothers', and co-workers' roles and values as "micro policies" that require interpretation and procedural implementation just as government or corporate policies do.


    Both fathering and work are multifaced. Both consist of multiple roles, changing demands, and "micro policies" that require implementation. Thus, the intersections between fathering and work are numerous and complex. Some functions of both fathering and of working are overlapping. Some functions of fathering and working are simultaneously synergistic and antagonistic. It is overly simplistic to believe that a comprehensive family leave policy or the eradication of wage inequity will solve the obstacles and barriers that men face in attempting to simultaneously fulfill their obligations in the work and family arenas. Such policies would allow greater freedom of choice, but the implication from this study is that the ultimate interface is in the implementation of micro policies on the "local" level—independent of corporate or national policy.


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      1. The names of participants and the names of those they mentioned during their interviews were changed to protect their identities.return to text

      2. The first time a participant is introduced parenthetical information will be provided to summarize some demographic information. The following conventions will be used: the first numeral field is the participant's age in chronological years, and the alphanumeric code represents ethnicity: AA=African American, C= Caucasian and H=Hispanic.return to text