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Brad Harrington

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1,000 Caring Fathers Counter Media Stereotypes

Posted: 06/24/11 06:36 PM ET

Last week, the Boston College Center for Work & Family released the results of a study we completed on nearly 1,000 American fathers. "The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted" explores the experience of mainly "white collar" fathers who work in large American companies. The results present a clear picture of fathers who care deeply about their work and their families but who are struggling to be active, engaged parents while investing significant energy in successful careers.

At work, these new dads are succeeding by traditional measures: they work for highly respected companies, many are in leadership positions, and they are well paid. They are also succeeding in other important career aspects as well: 90 percent said they find the work they do meaningful, 87 percent said that they feel respected in their organizations, and more than 80 percent said they "really feel a part of the group of people they work with." By any measure, this sounds like success.

At home, these men put a strong premium on good partnering and good parenting. They report spending more than 2.5 hours per work day with their children and more than three-quarters say they would like to spend even more time with the kids. They enjoy high levels of support from their spouse. When asked to rate six aspects they felt would define them as good fathers, being a breadwinner was important, but it ranked behind other roles including providing their children with love and support and being involved and present in their children's lives. These are not the absent fathers of days past who saw their role as simply bringing home a paycheck.

Dividing their attention between work and family seems to be paying off for them and their employers. Four out of five fathers reported that their role as family members had a positive spillover for their employers. They reported that fatherhood puts them in a good mood and the happiness they derive from being fathers makes them better workers. Conversely, the support they received from their employers and their managers to live balanced lives led to higher levels of work-life alignment but also higher levels of job satisfaction, greater commitment to their employer, and a lower likelihood to look for jobs elsewhere.

What has proved difficult of course is their effort to "do it all" -- to meet high career aspirations and to fulfill their expectations of being a good father. It was also challenging to be present in their children's lives while they worked 45, 55, or more hours per week. And they were cognizant of the fact that their intentions to share equally with their spouse or partner in parenting responsibilities did not match with the reality: while 65 percent of the fathers said caregiving should be shared 50/50 with their spouse, only 30 percent said that was actually the case.

Just as it is important to take stock of the challenges faced by working moms, it is important to see the challenges that confront working dads reflect a significant shift in attitudes and expectations that's been taking place over the last generation. What these fathers report offers concrete data that runs counter to some of the old stereotypes of workaholic, absent fathers who focus on career above all else. While television shows and the media seem intent on casting fathers as inept, clueless caregivers, this national sample of working fathers suggests otherwise and perhaps will help change outdated or inaccurate mindsets.

Based on what fathers are telling us, it's clear that they carry an appreciation of the important role that fatherhood plays in their lives and the lives of their family members. A steady string of high-profile men behaving badly - a sit-com actor, a former governor, an international banking executive, a one-time Vice Presidential candidate and a former Congressman - may grab the majority of media attention. But from our research, we see American men who are striving to be good workers, good fathers, and good men.