It may be just me. It may be just my age. It may be just the I people I hang around with. Or it may be that there is something seriously going on. But everywhere I turn, I hear and see the same things from working dads like me. Stress. Guilt. Anxiety. Depression. Exhaustion. Unhappiness. Pain.
There is a significant spectrum from acceptance to denial and a spectrum of impact from discomfort to agony. Either end, there is a generation of men who are working as hard as they can to be great dads and great work colleagues and failing. They are failing because in the definitions that they, or the cultures they work within, have defined as success, it is not possible to succeed.
We have for years rightly heard about the challenges faced by working mums and the target laid down to women to “have it all”; career and family. We have heard about the family-friendly policies introduced in big work places, job sharing, compressed working hours, creches in workplaces, family car parks and the attempts made to help women back into work after being away with their newborns. Looking back, clearly progress has been made for mums (with much more to do, especially in some professions, industries and sectors of the economy). For dads there has been some baby steps forward made – one thinks about shared parental leave for one – and there is more of a conversation being had but it still a whisper. Too often – as with most work-life balance pushes in the workplace – it is about ticking a box not tackling the real issues.
I have written extensively about my own experiences of trying to a dad and career success with the result of a spell in hospital, a breakdown and a total reassessment of my life from top to bottom. Perhaps because of that, I have people – sometime friends, sometimes not friends – contacting me to share their experience. Their stories are so similar and convince me that more help is needed. Time and again I hear about the stress of being away from home during the week; the ducking and diving to avoid meetings, commitments and deadlines to try to get home at a reasonable hour (not for a special occasion but just to see sons, daughters and partners); the daily battle through mountains of email demands for more, more, more even when the breaking point was reached some time ago; the latest conference call put in the diary, again at 8am or 6pm; the next trip overseas going in the diary having been promised there wouldn’t be any more this year; the key promotion meeting held over dinner (another night without eating with family); another team building event (overnight); a culture that doesn’t tolerate weakness and certainly not the saying of ‘no’ to new work, a new client, a new project; the drip, drip, drip of compromising one’s integrity and self respect to stay on the right side of someone important as a trade off from sloping off early occasionally or trying to work at home a day once in a while. I hear about lack of sleep, reliance on drink, reliance on caffeine and feeling like everyday is a hairy ride on the seat of your pants. I hear about the self loathing. The weight loss. The weight gain. The sweating. The dry mouth. The sickly feeling that won’t go away.
I am in the process of writing a book about my experience and hope it will help some – it has certainly helped me writing it. But we need more. We need to talk more. We need to share more. We need to admit more; admit it’s hard; admit we struggle; remove the masculine mask that we feel conditioned to wear and say this isn’t working for me. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting one exists. We still have a long way to go yet in feeling able to say – even in a whisper – that we are struggling, but struggling so many are; struggling at home and at work.
Photo taken from EmpireOnline: https://www.empireonline.com/movies/three-men-baby/review/