When I was a kid, I used to tell my dad not to come to my basketball games.
I was joking, of course, and it's not like he ever listened to me. But the thing was, on the rare occasion he wasn't there, I would go off. I mean, those were the best games of my life. 36 points against Arts in high school. First 20-point game in eighth grade. We would laugh about it afterwards, and I'd tell him the team had voted to ban him from all future events, but he didn't care. Next game he'd be up in the bleachers in his normal spot, cheering along with the rest of the parents. I could probably count the number of games he missed during my career on one hand.
See, both my parents were teachers. This meant a lot of things for me growing up: no cable TV until middle school and books instead of video games under the Christmas tree. But most of all, it meant that my parents had work schedules that allowed them to be there at every moment for my brother and me.
When I was younger, I kind of just assumed this was the way it was. Yet, for many high-level professionals in other fields, leaving work at 3:30 to go watch their kid's basketball game is unthinkable. Though this is not a gender specific issue, it has been mostly women leading the debate over work-life imbalance in the United States. This is because the discussion is often framed in feminist terms and as an offshoot of the "lean in" movement. Take, for example, Anne-Marie Slaughter's famous piece entitled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and the ideas put forth by these women are absolutely crucial for building a better future in America, but it does raise a worrisome question. Where the hell are all the men?
Seriously, where are they? When was the last time a man in a high profile position spoke publicly about how difficult it is to have a successful career while still being a great father? Where are the men pushing for reform, arguing for more flexible work schedules that value family time just as much as time in the office? And, most importantly, why aren't there more men willing to stand up and say that their masculinity is defined not by their salaries or their sexual conquests, but by the kinds of husbands and parents they become?
The way I see it, the problem is twofold. Sure, not many men are willing to speak out about these issues, but there is a reason behind it. Growing up, boys are constantly reminded that their success will be measured by their wealth, prestige and power. Yet this pressure, at least in my experience, comes not only from the males we are "competing" with, but also from women.
Maybe it is a girlfriend who tells you it would make her "highly uncomfortable" if she made more money than you (true story). Or perhaps it's the woman that says, quite proudly, that she only dates rich guys (I've heard that one multiple times -- and no, not as an excuse to shoot me down). Sure, these are somewhat extreme examples, but there are subtler ways that we are constantly told that the relationship between a man and his ego is the only one that matters.
This wouldn't be such a bad thing if there wasn't such an unfortunate corollary attached to these values. But there is, and the price of this endless push for prestige is that men are inevitably undervalued at home -- both by themselves and by women. In her article, Slaughter posits that men have been silent because it "is simply not the case... (that) women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children." Though she is careful to say that she does not think men love their children less than women, the implication here is clear -- when it comes to raising families, men are second-class citizens.
Am I the only one who sees something messed up about this?!? Or am I wrong here? To be fair, what do I know? I don't have kids. I'm 22 years old, a nobody who just graduated from college and dreams of one day holding one of those high up foreign policy positions. I get excited about reading Zbigniew Brzezinski and get more starstruck meeting Rania Abouzeid than any musician/actor/celebrity (Bruce Springsteen being the sole exception).
On the other hand, maybe this makes me the perfect person to start this conversation. Like I said, I'm a nobody. I'm not a CEO, a Deputy Secretary or even anyone's boss yet. I'm part of a generation of young men entering the work force that are increasingly concerned about the choices we will eventually have to make between our careers and our families. And within the next 10 years, I will be one of the men making these choices.
Because the fact is, things are changing. Men my age are beginning to define their success in different ways, with their (future) families being the number one concern. Sure, they are not yet vocal about it, but the more I talk to my peers, the more worried I realize they are. Men want to "lean in" to their families, but with demanding careers and social pressures that dictate values, I am not sure we all know how.
For others, this has become an existential crisis. But for me, I am fortunate enough to know that it never will be. You see, this past winter I made it back to my old high school to take in a basketball game with my dad. We talked about all the memories that gym held, still palpable amidst the old, musty smell and cheering fans. Funny thing was, he remembered some of it better than me. And I know that is the type of father I will be one day. The only question is, will I be able to have my career as well?