It's working for Scott Behson
“Fatherhood has made me realize that life is long, careers are long, and even the experience of being a father is long. You don’t have to accomplish everything right now; you can relax and enjoy moments when they come.”
Young Scott was always impatient and in a rush. Thankfully, being married, having a child, and settling into my career have made me very happy and satisfied, and eased my sense of urgency. Fatherhood has made me realize that life is long, careers are long, and even the experience of being a father is long. You don’t have to accomplish everything right now; you can relax and enjoy moments when they come.
I didn’t exactly take a paternity leave. Nick was born three days after my last final exam of the spring semester. Perfect timing (although we didn’t actually plan it that way). I was able to spend the summer on a “de-facto” paternity leave, and my wife Amy, my son, Nick, and I got to learn how the whole “baby makes three” thing would shake out. Our time together helped us figure out our work-family juggle and how we’d manage part-time child care with our careers. Without the time and space to figure things out, it would have been much harder. I was incredibly lucky.
I see how important being home for the first few months of Nick’s life was for my development as a father and for setting the stage for my family’s dynamics. It makes me angry that more dads don’t have the opportunity I did. This opportunity to develop as a person, a parent and spouse should not be reserved just for new moms, or just for the lucky few new dads with ultra-flexible jobs or awesomely progressive employers.
I believe all dads deserve this opportunity, and that dads, moms, kids, families and our society all benefit when dads get to immerse themselves in the life of their children in such a uniquely intimate and transformative way. In fact, I devote an entire chapter of The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home to helping dads understand their paternity leave options and advocate for themselves in the workplace. I’m not just an advocate for working dads because of my professional interests. For me, paternity leave is personal.
As a college professor, I have an incredible amount of control over my time. There are probably only 20 hours a week I need to be at a particular place to do my job (classes, meetings, office hours). The rest (writing, grading, project work) I can do wherever and whenever. This freedom has been incredible for my work-family balance.
This is especially true because my wife is a professional stage actress. When Amy’s called for an audition, it is often scheduled for tomorrow and it cannot be rescheduled to fit her preferences. When she’s rehearsing, it’s usually 10-6, six days a week, plus a driving commute to/from NYC. When she’s in a long-running show, she works at night and on weekends. In general, entertainers work when others don’t, and the world is not set up to help parents with non-traditional work hours.
Amy’s schedule means we often rely on my flexibility to make the work-family juggle work. The one concession my employer and supervisor made was to switch me out of teaching graduate classes, which are mostly evenings and weekends, and into our undergraduate programs, which are mostly weekdays. By doing so, I know I can usually take care of the after-school care, even if Amy’s working or called for a last-minute audition.
Again, I understand my incredibly fortunate position, and devote large swaths of my book to helping dads who face more difficult work-family challenges than I face.
My wife is awesome and we make a great team. As much as I flex around her schedule, I know she always has my back. This allowed me to return to work with a clear conscience. We are also lucky to find a great day care that was willing to be flexible with our hours. Our extended families are not local, but we’ve been able to build a great network of friends and neighbors who all help each other out with all of our kids. My workplace is also very supportive. I kinda hit the jackpot, which is why I feel so passionate about helping working parents with their work-family challenges.
The sleep deprivation. Nick did not sleep well his first year, and it was sometimes very hard to make it through the work day (and the commute!) without wanting to doze off. As I worked mostly days and Amy worked mostly nights, we didn’t always have the luxury of trading off baby duty when we got exhausted.
I never expected the initial stress, sleep deprivation and lowering of personal hygiene standards would be so hard and seeing the world again through a child’s eyes would be so much easier!