More men forsake jobs to be full-time fathers

When his daughter was born, Jonathan Kronstadt didn't have to think too hard about quitting his job to look after his baby full time. His wife had a better-paying job than he did, and Mr. Kronstadt wasn't especially fond of the one he had.

Now, after six years as a full-time dad and a part-time writer in Silver Spring, Md., Kronstadt says he would never return to a 40-hour office job, while some day-care worker gets to watch his children - Alison, 6, and Max, 3 - grow up.

"I'd rather knock both my arms off," says Kronstadt, only half-joking. "I didn't want to be the stereotype of the working father, where you see your kid for breakfast and a half an hour at night, and then you cram 89 culturally enriching experiences into the weekend."

Young fathers like Kronstadt are the avant-garde of a growing force in the 21st-century American workforce. Unwilling to be defined by their job and intrigued by the rhythms of a family-friendly schedule,20- and 30-something young males are more and more choosing family as their top priority.

This change in attitude is driven as much by the flexibility of high-tech telecommuting as it is by the hard-won battles of the women's movement. It's an attitude that is slowly changing the ways that US companies, big and small, are attracting and retaining their workers. But the emphasis is on "slowly," and it's unclear whether those gains would remain if companies were less desperate for workers.

"There is a growing minority of men who are saying, 'There is more to my life than my work,'" says Rob Okun, who teaches a class for young fathers at the Men's Resource Center in Amherst, Mass. "We're still far from parity with women" in terms of equalizing parental responsibilities, he adds, "but a tremendous shift is starting to happen."

A quick glance at popular culture shows that society's view of a father's role is changing dramatically. Full-time dads have their own TV sitcom, "Daddio," and their own comic strip, "Adam." Even Bruce Willis, the smart-mouthed action hero of "Die Hard" fame, took a sensitive turn, desperately holding his family together in the tear-jerker, "The Story of Us."

But beyond the celluloid manifestations, there's growing evidence that this family-first attitude is taking a firm hold among a generation of workers.

According to a new study, conducted by Harris Interactive polling group for the Radcliffe Public Policy Center in Cambridge, Mass., nearly four-fifths of men aged 21 to 39 say that having a work schedule that allows for time with family is the most important goal in their lives. Some 71 percent of these men said they would give up some pay for more time with their families.

Contrast that attitude with the forty-something set: 79 percent of this group said that rewarding work was very important. For those 50 and above, 86 percent say that enjoyable coworker relationships were very important.

"Attitudes are in flux," says Leslie Cintron, project manager of the Radcliffe study. Not only are women having more opportunities to compete with men in the workplace, but young men are having opportunities to nurture the June Cleaver within.

While some young men are actually quitting their jobs or taking long leaves of absence to become full-time dads, others are sharing parental roles in different ways, either by paring back their work schedules or taking on a greater share of the household chores.

Matt Hollon, for instance, used to work "crazy hours" before the birth of his son, Sam, 7-1/2 months ago. But now he has cut his schedule back to only 30 hours a week. In addition, he works from an office just around the corner from his house, and walks home for lunch every day.

"I'm not one of those 15-minute-a-day dads," says Mr. Hollon, who has gotten to see Sam's latest trick: learning to crawl. "I think some of this is changing because it wasn't working for our parents. My dad was a workaholic, and I very consciously did not want to repeat that model." He pauses. "My dad wouldn't want to either, but he didn't have the choice then."

While some employers, like Hollon's female boss, are supportive of family-friendly work schedules, others are likely to view this trend with more than a little trepidation. But in these times of low unemployment, it may be a moot point.

Some businesses may have no choice but to offer their workers perks such as paternity leave and flexible work schedules to keep them from leaving for the family-friendly competitor across the street.

Even though more employers are willing to let fathers take time off for their kids, there are still biases that keep men from being the fully engaged fathers they want to be.

"There are some fathers who will tell their supervisors they have a personal doctor's appointment, when in fact they are taking their child to a doctor's appointment," says Mr. Okun, at the Men's Resource Center. "We still have situations where men feel they have to be surreptitious."

It's anecdotes like these that lead some researchers to believe that young men are finally confronting an obstacle that working mothers have faced for years. It's called the glass ceiling.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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