With Father’s Day this coming Sunday, Vermont Law School Professor,
parent and commentator Cheryl Hanna has been thinking about what it’s
like for fathers trying to balance work and family in the new digital
(Hanna) When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg married
his long-time girlfriend and medical doctor Priscilla Chan, I couldn’t
help but think about what their lives will be like if they have
children. Will they fall into the ever-so-typical pattern of the mother
sacrificing her career while the father feels pressure to work even
I was reminded of a speech that Joan Williams gave at
Harvard a few years ago on men and masculinity. Williams is a law
professor and founder of the Center for WorkLife Law in California, and
has done some groundbreaking work on how our workplaces often
discriminate against people with family responsibilities.
tells the story of a Silicon Valley engineer, whose boss wanted a
meeting right away. The engineer panicked. "Sweating like a horse, he
called his secretary" and said, "Hey, you gotta get me out of this,
because my baby is getting Christened and if I don’t meet with the
priest it’s not going to happen and my family is going to kill me and my
wife will divorce me and I won’t have any kids and my life will be
So the secretary lies for him, suggesting that he can’t be at the meeting because of other work obligations.
engineer saves face, but is nevertheless caught in a situation where
his workplace reinforces the notion that good fathers are ambitious
breadwinners while good mothers stay home. Indeed, there’s research
suggesting that men who have stay-at-home wives are more valued because
of a macho work culture in which the longer hours you log at work , the
more manly you are.
Yet, there are plenty of dads who, like the
engineer, want to be involved in the lives of their children, but work
expectations make that hard to do.
It’s true that Vermont is far
away from Silicon Valley. I suspect that the work culture here is more
egalitarian and more flexible than in many places. A friend of mine who
moved to Burlington from the industrial Midwest once noted that she
shocked at how many dads there were at the playground here on a weekday
Nevertheless, I don’t think that Vermonters are immune
from the kind of workplace machismo that Williams finds harm ful to dads
and their children. And we’re not likely to make the lives of families
any better unless we change our expectations of what it means to be a
Maybe its just wishful thinking – but if Zuckerberg
does become a dad, maybe he’ll institute a work culture that provides
flexibility for working parents and perhaps he himself will model better
work/family balance – like expecting everyone to go home for dinner
instead of eating at the office. If that happens, we’ll no doubt learn
about it on Facebook.
Until then, we’ll just have to keep making
whatever strides we can in our own small ways to ensure that we don’t
discriminate against dads who, just like moms, struggle to balance work
And Father’s Day is a great time to start.