I think it is great that MongoDB CEO Max Schireson and Pimco CEO/co-CIO Mohamed El-Erian left their high paying jobs to spend more time with their families. I do. I also get why it is news, and why so many people are celebrating it. It is important because it shows two high-profile men expressing the idea that family is a priority over work, and hopefully other companies might see this as a shot across the bow: start thinking more about work/life balance, or start losing talent.
And to be honest, they are incredibly sweet stories. In El-Erian's case, his daughter handed him a list of milestones he had missed, he presumably teared up, and shortly after turned in his resignation. It was beautiful, and moving, and he didn't even need a magical nanny to float in on an umbrella to give him the nudge he needed.
When I handed the article to my wife, her response was a completely unsarcastic, "Wow! Wouldn't that be nice!" And she is right. What about us? What about all the other poor to middle-class parents who have to work so they can have a roof, and food, and transportation? What about the mom and dad who will most likely continue to work into their 70s so they can hopefully send their kids to college, and maybe... just maybe retire someday? Yes, it is great that a high-powered CEO can step away from his job and never miss a dance recital again. The truth is, that isn't a luxury most of us can afford.
Here's what I want to know. Before cashing out and heading to a Little League softball game, did either of them take a minute to make sure that parents at their companies had paid maternity/paternity leave? Did they take their family values and drape them over policy? Limit hours, better insurance, family oriented attendance policies? Or did they just leave? (I really don't know. If someone wants to do additional research, feel free and I will add an addendum.)
Look, I am glad that they had enough savings in their bank accounts to step away from a job of power, and any active and involved father who gets media attention is a win in my book. I will be the first to admit the "success = massive amounts of money" narrative is pretty played out. There are better things than money, and I count happy, well-developed kids among them.
But if you ask me, these guys walking away from their high-paying jobs to be involved fathers are no more heroes than the millions of other working parents who don't get that option, and most likely never will.
So here's a quick shout-out for them:
Hey dad who works at Walmart, I know you might not be inspired by your job. I know moving all those browning bananas to a cart and replacing them with slightly less browning bananas may not be where you pictured yourself when you were younger. I know that paycheck looks as light as it feels, and that "payday" might as well be known as "bill-payday." But you do it, over and over and over again, because you have kids at home who need you.
You may not get to sit with them and tirelessly go over phonics, or change every diaper, or take them to the park as often as you want to. You probably don't get to be as active and involved as you wish you could be. You may not even know your kid's favorite color, because last week it was green and this week it is the color of whichever Lego Ninja finally beat up the Green one. But that doesn't make you a bad dad. That $11 an hour says as much to me as a beautifully constructed bento box. You're doing what you can. And that makes you awesome.
And young mom at the mall food court, I know you didn't get a degree in orange-chicken making, but the wedding ring under your gloves and the tired look in your eyes make me think that you probably would rather be at home dealing with a horrific toddler fit, or planning meals, or getting boogey kisses on your face, than asking me whether I want rice or noodles. But you're not, because bills are bills are bills. You rock.
Because, do you know what else I know? Dad, you still find time to wrestle with your kids in that hour between getting home and putting them to bed. And Mom, you may be falling asleep while trying to remember the words to that Mary Poppins lullaby, but you can still carry a tune. And when the kids are finally in bed and pretending to be asleep, you sit down at the kitchen table and figure out how you're going buy groceries next week. And you both know that change jar is half full and ready to be emptied if needed.
I know this because this was my family growing up. My dad wasn't at every school play, because he worked nights. My mom couldn't be at every football game, but we never went hungry. And even today, there are weeks when my wife and I find ourselves at the kitchen table saying, "How in the hell are we going to make this work?" But we find a way. If someday my daughter hands me a list of all the things I have missed, I will be heartbroken. But I will also know that in my back pocket is a mortgage bill that needs to be paid, and I will know I am doing my best. So are you.
So good on Schireson and El-Erian for leaving their jobs, and good on them for vocally saying that the reason was so they could be more involved dads. I don't want to take that away from them. If I ran into them at a bar, I would buy the first round. But let's not forget that we live in an economy where in most areas of the country it requires two incomes just to buy necessities. And for most of us, obtaining some sort of work-life balance doesn't just involve eliminating, or drastically reducing, the work side of the equation.
If we want things to be better, if we want corporations that see the value in healthy, balanced families, we're going to need buy-in from the top as well as noise from the middle and bottom. Like this. Just be sure to do it soon, before everyone in the C-suite sees the light and quits their jobs to go be more active parents.