Paul Ryan Reminds Us Dads Need to Explore Work/Life Balance Issues

Earlier this month, my grandmother passed away. She was 100 years, four months, and 20 days old when she left us, meaning she possessed more life knowledge than most of us can ever imagine. A week or so before her last day, I was fortunate enough to spend a little time with her. That afternoon, I had made an unscheduled stop to just see how she was doing. As I usually did, I updated her on the lives of her great grandchildren. I assured her everything was fine with me and that my wife was doing well. Just a typical visit, like those I’ve had with her for more than a decade.

As I was leaving, my grandmother looked at me and said, “you work too hard.” It’s a statement I hear often from many people all the time, so I didn’t give it much thought at that moment. But I’ve reflected quite a lot on it over the last week, as I realized that was the last thing that she ever said to me.

I brought this up in a conversation with a mentor of mine this week, noting that I hadn’t taken a vacation day in a year now, and that I hadn’t actually gone away on a vacation in almost two years. In fact, because of work demands I had missed the last three “family” vacations, leaving my wife and kids to enjoy themselves without a distracted dad.

His advice to me? Don’t look back and regret that you weren’t there to be a part of your kids growing up.

So when Paul Ryan announced he was retiring from Congress and from his position as Speaker of the House because he wants to be there for his family, I want to believe him. I, too, know what he may be feeling when he said it seems like his wife was doing 90 percent of the parenting for their children.

It’s easy to attack Speaker Ryan, and to question why he is really stepping away. Back in 2015, when Ryan’s arm was twisted to assume the speakership in the first place, he voiced concern for his ability to find the appropriate work/family balance. On cue, critics attacked him for his statements. Some saw it as a sign he wasn’t sufficiently hungry enough for one of the most powerful positions in government. And others used it to critique Ryan’s past stances on issues such as family and medical leave, the same critiques used this week when he announced his retirement for family reasons.

Maybe, just maybe, the past three years have taught Paul Ryan about the incredible strains being a national politician can have on being a husband and a father. Or maybe he’s realized that those election results he waits for every other November aren’t quite as significant in light of the development of his children and their futures.

Regardless, it is unfortunate that we see nothing wrong with questioning the motives of a man who wants to ensure he doesn’t lose focus on his family obligations, particularly after realizing he had strayed from such in recent years. When PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi or Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg preached a few years ago about the need for women to sacrifice on the personal and family front in order to be the business and career success, we applauded them for doing what it takes. Yet when a man says there is more to his personal success than his professional status, he faces scrutiny and potential ridicule.

Make no mistake, Lean In was an important lesson for those of us with daughters, particularly as we want them to see they can do anything with their lives if they set their minds to it and work hard. But it also offered a message that bought into a cultural stereotype that continues to dog men in our modern society. And it begs us to issue a national call for men to “Dive In” when it comes to our own families. It calls for more fathers to ask the types of questions and wrestle with the same issues that Paul Ryan and many men like him struggle with day in and day out.

Historically, families were positioned with fathers as the primary “professional” and mothers caring for the family. The end of the traditional nuclear family half a century ago began to change the dynamic. Single parent households and those where both parents work are now the new normal.

But the gender stereotypes from the 1950s remain. We expect the male head of household to put career and the job first. He’s still expected to be the one to work long hours. He is the one to miss family events. He is the one on his smartphone the entire time he is at a little league game or a dance recital, if he can get to them in the first place.

Lean In and the calls that have followed it are based on the notion that women can and should be just as focused on their career as men are perceived to be. That women need to recognize that they need to make sacrifices, particularly on the personal front, in order to be professional successes. Or perhaps it simply means their priorities can be just as out of whack as their male counterparts.

Instead, we should be sending the opposite message. As a society, we still marvel at that “stay-at-home” dad, viewing him largely as an oddity worth questioning. We question the motives of those fathers who volunteer in their children’s schools, holding them up as heroes for simply making the time. We doubt the motives of those men who would prefer to spend their Saturdays at the local park with their kids rather than at the golf course with their buddies. And we ridicule those like Paul Ryan who just may prefer time at home in Wisconsin with the kids, rather than on the road raising tens of millions of dollars, while trying to manage a dysfunctional Congress that grows more dysfunctional by the day.

The time is long past for us to begin to refocus America’s men on what is truly important. We regularly speak of fatherhood, without fully appreciating what it really means. Even today, we equate being a good father with the ability to financially provide for a family. Pay the rent, feed the family, and watch a movie together every Friday seems to be nomination for Father of the Year. It shouldn’t be.

It is well past time for fathers to look closely at what is truly important and focus his time and energies on what really matters. Is it easy? No. Does it require tradeoffs? Absolutely. Is it for every man? No, but it should be.

America’s fathers must stop making excuses for why we can’t be a larger part of our children’s lives and we must stop punting responsibility for our families to the women in our lives. We must spotlight those men, like Paul Ryan, who ask the right questions and make the right choices, seeking the right balance, and trying to do what is right for them and for those that truly love them.

In years past, politics used to be full of jokes about what “scandal” lurks behind a public resignation that results in a man declaring he wants to spend more time with his family. Instead, we need to start asking why more men aren’t making the same decisions. We need more men asking how much family commitment is worth sacrificing for professional success.

No, most men don’t need to lean in when it comes to work. They need to dive in when it comes to family. We need to ensure that we aren’t absentee fathers and that we don’t miss being there, really there, as our kids grow up. We need to publicly acknowledge there should be more to working fathers than a family picture on a desk. And we need to be willing to talk more, as fathers and as men, about how we struggle to find that life balance each and every day.

(The above post also appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)

Fatherhood is About More Than Putting the Ball in the Hoop

What does it say when you disrespect your sons’ coaches, whether they be at UCLA or the Lakers? What does it say when you minimize the severity of the charges against LiAngelo, and insinuate that skills with the basketball trump adherence to the law? What does it say when you constantly call out and attack the very professionals your sons idolize? What does it say when you don’t make your kids suffer the consequences of their actions? And what does it say when you quit and storm off the first time things don’t go your way or you don’t like the resolution of a problem?

In my latest Medium essay, I reflect on how being a good dad is all about modeling good behavior and how that is missing from the current LaVar Ball family saga

Where is Fatherhood?

When it comes to fatherhood, where are we exactly? Where are we on work/life balance? Where are we on the different types of dads, including part-time ones? Where are we when it comes to traditional gender roles? Where are we?

A lot of questions, and all requiring long, complicated answers from sociologists, answers that likely result in far more additional questions than they do in conclusions. Yet it is a topic that we tried to tackle today at the Dad 2.0 Summit in San Diego.

I was fortunate to be joined in this discussion by Brian Heilman of Promundo, Eric Snow of WatchDOGS, and Jonathan Stern of fatherly. We were also incredibly lucky to have such a terrific crowd that offered thought-provoking questions and personal experiences to spur the conversation.

This was my first time out at Dad 2.0. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but was eager to hear how my own view of fatherhood fit in with some of these national discussions. From the get go, I was amazed by the energy, the passion, and the positivity of the 500 or so folks (can’t say men as there were a number of women in attendance this weekend as well). 

It was incredibly valuable to hear about WatchDOGS and its work to get fathers more involved in their kids’ schools. I’m always shocked when I hear about schools celebrating and throwing parties just because a dad was volunteering that day. It’s like a dad in a public school is akin to finding that rainbow unicorn.

My role, aside from serving as some comic relief, quickly came into sight for me. I am a father, yes. But I am a white father of Latino kids, seeking to make sure their heritage remains an important part of their lives. I am a working dad doing everything possible to share the responsibilities on the home front. I am a feminist dad, committed to ensuring my daughter (and my son) can do and be just about anything that she wants to do. And I am an activist dad, determined that as great as it is to talk and discuss many of the issues found at Dad 2.0, it is far more important to take action and have clear goals that demonstrate the progress a modern fatherhood movement can make.

Not surprisingly, I also think I am the only dad in a crowd of hundreds who goes with his daughter to the salon every month for pedicures, complete with full polish.

A big thank you to the sponsors who make events like this possible. It’s terrific to realize that products you use every day are supportive of some of the social issues you care about. So thanks in particular to Dove Men Care (@DoveMenCare, #RealStrength), Facebook (@Facebook, #FBDad), and Russell Athletic (#Dadlete).

Kudos to Dad 2.0 for putting together such an incredible event. This newbie is excited for what is to come. 

Dad 2.0 is Coming!

I’m very excited to announce that Eduflack will be speaking at the Dad 2.0 Summit in February 2017. As the author of the award-winning book Dadprovement, I always love an opportunity to talk about my own family experiences and how fathers can get more invested in their families and in being a dad.

More details will be coming in February, but how can I not love being a part of an organization that describes itself as:

THE DAD 2.0 SUMMIT is an annual conference where marketers, social media leaders, and blogging parents connect to discuss the changing voice and perception of modern fatherhood.

More men are defying stereotypes by taking active roles in their children’s lives, making day-to-day household purchasing decisions regarding products and services, and chronicling these experiences online. The Dad 2.0 Summit is an open conversation about the commercial power of dads online, as well as an opportunity to learn the tools and tactics used by influential bloggers to create high-quality contentbuild personal brands, and develop viable business models.

I hope to see you out in San Diego in early February!

 

Fathers and the Role They Can, Should Play

When it comes to family-school relationships, too often we still see the old stereotypes. It’s the mother’s responsibility to deal with the school, the teachers, and the homework. But should it be?

Over on Medium, Eduflack has a new piece as part of the Ashoka Changemakers series. In it, I write:

Too often, we leave educational decisions to the mother in the relationship, thinking it isn’t part of a father’s job. In reality, we shouldn’t just show empathy to those fathers looking to get involved, we shouldn’t just be praising those who choose that path, but we should be demanding it from all fathers. Fathers must be more involved in their kids’ education, beyond helping with homework at night. That’s what involvement really looks like. At its very heart, it is a simple, common-sense idea.

I also offer up some tips on how a dad can be a little more involved in the process. I hope you’ll give it a read.

 

“I’d Like to Give the World a Phone …”

Loyal readers of Eduflack know two things. First, I am passionate about education technology and its ability to transform the learning process for students. Second, I am a proud adoptive father, and never miss the opportunity to talk about (or write, as one can read in my book, Dadprovement) our family’s experiences bringing our children home from Guatemala.

For most who have no idea, last month Guatemala elected a new president, as elections were coming up and the previously elected president is currently sitting in a jail cell. I won’t go into the politics of the nation, the military, non-military rule that is prevalent, or any other such things. Let’s just say a new president was elected. His previous career was as an actor. And his famous role was playing a moron who gets elected president (yes, you can’t make this up).

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales earned more than two-thirds of the vote in an October runoff. He now sits in the big chair in Guatemala City. And one of his first official actions was to make some new education policy.

As background, Guatemala is an incredibly poor country (so much so that citizens sneak into Mexico illegally to do the unwanted jobs there). Education is not compulsory. Far too many of the nation’s citizens receive no formal education, whether it be because of access or finances or cultural prioritization.

So how do we address this? One could start with strong early childhood education programs. There are countless other ways to begin, most of which cost money. So President Morales decided he would think outside the box?

His plan? Free cell phones for all students. He’d pay for it by letting all of the cellphone companies paint their logos on school walls, assuming they donate the phones to the kids in question.

To summarize. We have schools ill-equipped to integrate phones into classes that already have 60 or 70 students in them. We haven’t prepared teachers for how to make use of these phones. And we are sending little kids out into communities where their new piece of technology makes them prime targets for robbery. All under a belief that if you give a kid a phone, she will learn (or for the cynic, that a phone can replace actual teaching.)

Don’t worry, teachers, President Morales has a plan for you too. While attending public school isn’t required, the Morales administration is convinced that attendance and teacher absenteeism is a big issue. So future plans include tagging teachers with GPS trackers to ensure they are showing up for their jobs.

This is why so many people think policymaking should be left in the hands of real professionals.

On the phones, I don’t doubt Morales’ sincerity in thinking if he can get kids tech, it will improve their learning. But delivering the hardware is the last step in a solid edtech plan, not the first thing out of the shoot. And as you are asking teachers to change their instructional practice, insulting them by demanding they be tracked doesn’t seem to be the wisest of strategies.

And yes, I realize some will suggest this is just another example of how the anti-teacher, corporatization of public education model of reform in the United States is being exported around the globe. Before you do, let’s not. I don’t think American education reformers are setting their sights on the Guatemalan education market. Heck, even the cellphone companies that may be painting their logos on school walls soon are largely local (it isn’t Verizon and AT&T you see much down there).

But it does speak to the danger of reform for reform’s sake. If one truly wants to improve education in a country like Guatemala, is it more valuable to have books or cell phones? Is there more benefit to content-based professional development of teacher GPS tracking? And is it more valuable to think through plans rather than announce the first thing that pops into your head when asked about education?

No matter how well meaning, we can’t close achievement and opportunity gaps by simply providing a child a cell phone that they may not have a month into the term.

What Congressman Paul Ryan Can Teach Us About Modern Fathering

It is truly disappointing how some folks in the political sphere reacted to U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s public concerns for what serving as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives would do to the work/life balance he seeks and his relationship with his family.

Over at Medium, I write on the importance of Ryan’s public statements, and how every father can and should learn from this important topic. From my electronic pen:

America’s fathers must stop making excuses for why we can’t be a larger part of our children’s lives and we must stop punting responsibility for our families to the women in our lives. We must spotlight those men, like Paul Ryan, who ask the right questions and make the right choices, seeking the right balance, and trying to do what is right for them and for those that truly love them.

The role of a father in the 21st century cannot be understated and cannot be dismissed. As we demand more from our schools and our communities and our kids, it will fall to fathers to be a key part of any meaningful progress.