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Surveys say fathers want to be more active at home. Will the modern work environment enable it?

Trey Burley and his son, Charlie
Posted at 10:49 AM, Jun 14, 2022

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — There’s something powerful to the idea that the definition of parenthood is changing – and that men (and dads specifically) want to be a part of that change.

Trey Burley has been ahead of that curve.

"I’m a stay-at-home dad," says the resident of Alpharetta, Georgia. He has two sons. Jake is 12, and Charlie is ten.

On the morning we visit, Burley shepherds Charlie through summer school, then cleans upstairs, then drives both boys to camp.

“Twelve years ago, I felt more anomalous," Burley told correspondent Matt Pearl.

Twelve years ago, this story would have been about the anomalous stay-at-home dad. Today, it’s about how staying at home and working from home has put us at a pivotal point for work-life balance.

“It’s a great question: How does change happen?" asks Brigid Schulte, a think tank director and writer who recently co-authored an article for Slate titled, “The Future of the Recent Flexible Work Revolution Depends on Men.”

It's not just men who stay at home but the many men who, in the last two-plus years, have embraced working from home.

“One of the things that we’ve heard from a number of men is that they didn’t realize how much they were missing," Schulte said.

Recent research from Harvard found that “almost 70% of fathers feel closer to their children during the coronavirus pandemic.” That lines up with the rising number of studies, including many before the pandemic, that find fathers want to be more active – and equitable – at home.

“There’s a big disconnect between what men say they want and what they’re actually able to do," Schulte said. “The fact that we don't support families with paid family leave or childcare or paid sick days, that we don't sort of acknowledge that people have lives outside of work, makes it very difficult for men to choose to give care, as so much of our research shows they really want to do.”

Schulte sees the COVID-19 pandemic – this tectonic shift in so many lives – as a window to change the culture of work. Yet the closer to normal we return, the further this window could recede. It will depend, she says, on executives, the same executives whose employees are nearly twice as likely as they are to be working full-time at the office.

“Every single survey shows that men and women, people across all genders, across parties, believe in family-supportive policies," Schulte said. "That could have lasting effects, but only if we have workplaces that won’t punish them for then acting on that desire to be more involved in care.”

That brings us back to Burley.

“Upending the gender norms, I think that’s awesome," he said. Parenting is "hard, it’s difficult, it’s challenging, but it’s been a blast, every step of the moment.”

It’s worth it for the moments. It’s worth it for the time. As many dads have discovered, those moments and that time don’t need to feel far, far away.