Roy Marden was the last person anyone -- even his wife -- thought would be the primary caretaker for his infant daughter. He admittedly felt ambivalent about the idea of becoming a parent. He thoroughly enjoyed the lifestyle that he and his wife, Charon, could afford, with two careers and no children. Roy runs his own business as a public affairs consultant, after spending nearly 20 years at Philip Morris traveling all over the world in his role as a corporate affairs executive. And while Roy found he was more set in his ways as he got older, he simultaneously wondered if he would come to regret never having been a parent.
When the couple became parents, Roy surprised Charon with his proposal to stay home with their child. "My wife was under the impression that I would be home for three or four months and then we would put Abby in day care but I told her, 'I want to see if I can do this. I know I won’t be able to do things like I used to -- and if it turns out that it drives me insane, we can always go to plan B -- but I really want to give it a try.'"
Nearly two years later, Roy couldn't be happier that he did. He describes these early years of his daughter’s life as “time you can never get back” and emphasizes that every moment that goes by is an emotional opportunity that’s lost forever.
I can’t imagine a more important role in society.
Roy was quick to admit that he didn’t always see things this way, and described his thinking about becoming a parent as an evolution. "Earlier in my life I wasn't there. I cared about getting ahead, making money, traveling. But now that I have had this experience in my life of being part of the development of a small human being, I can’t imagine a more important role in society. Through the years I've had women working for me who took maternity leave and I was fine with that and knew we’d work around it. But now I have ultimate respect and complete understanding of what it really takes."
Roy indicated that the partnership with his wife in those very first days of caring for his newborn daughter was pivotal in building up his confidence. Having virtually no experience caring for babies, he felt a strong fear of the unknown. He spent the first few months after his daughter’s birth in baby boot camp, with his wife by his side, before she headed back to work at the end of her maternity leave. For the first three months he would watch his wife caring for their daughter -- feeding her or putting her down for a nap -- until he was doing it, too. He said, "If my wife had gone back to work immediately, I might have been a lost cause but it was a matter of time and repeating it until I got it down."
Roy found that his wife’s research, reading many of the parenting "best practices," gave him the confidence to do what he thought was right. At the same time he stressed that there was no one right way to parent or there would not be so many books on the subject. Two months into taking care of his daughter solo, Roy said, "There were many things no book said. I did things my wife couldn’t. She liked my deeper voice and she knew daddy would hold her, calm her down, and make her laugh. She’s learning me and I’m learning her."
Roy’s wife Charon gets up with their daughter at 6:30 or 7 a.m. and spends the next hours getting Abby ready for the day before she leaves for work as an art director for a major national newspaper at around 8:45. Roy steps into the primary caretaker role and spends the next nine to ten hours managing a combination of his consulting work, his work as a director for multiple non-profit boards, and his work caring for his daughter. She reliably sleeps for 2 to 2 ½ hours every afternoon, which provides an almost foolproof window of time for high priority work calls and intense thinking or writing time. The other time is a mix of some work focus -- while Abby is playing independently -- and some time for child-centered activities like art and Gymboree classes. She will start pre-school two mornings a week next September providing, as Roy describes it, "found time," and an opportunity to expand his daytime work hours.
Charon typically returns home by 6 p.m. when she moves into fully-focused caregiver mode until their daughter goes to sleep for the night. Roy sometimes logs work time in the early morning before his wife leaves for her office or later in the evening after she returns home. He described having developed a division of labor on weekends where his wife typically takes the lead care role but they also spend time all together as a family. In addition, Roy and Charon try to plan a night out for adult time together every few weeks when they have a babysitter stay with Abby.
According to Roy, the world of caring for young children clearly remains a women’s world. He described being called "Mr. Mom" with some regularity and always being the only man at child-centered activities during the week. He indicated not being able to break into the club of mothers and nannies who schedule time together outside of the classes and play groups simply because he is a guy. (It sounds strikingly similar to women professionals not being welcomed ‘into the boys club’ in many work environments.)
Being a highly involved father, and spending this precious time with his daughter, has been profound for Roy. He thinks of these 20 plus months at home caring for his young daughter as the hardest job he’s ever had, indicating at the end of the day he’s more tired than while traveling around the world for his corporate job. For him, it has also been the most rewarding job he’s ever done by far. He has cast the foundation and built a bond that will endure.
In response to the question, what would you want to share with new fathers -- and fathers-to-be -- based on your experience? Roy said:
"Parenting is one of life’s great journeys. Too many people -- especially men -- are missing out on an experience that you cannot get again. You need to find the time -- work with your employer, take the major responsibility on the weekends rather than just helping out as a way to bond with your child, and share with your spouse. At the end of the day you can sit in your corporate job while your kid is growing up, and they are being raised, but you don’t know that child. You need to maximize that time.
I say this as a direct result of the experience I’ve had being with my daughter. I would not trade these last two years for anything I’ve done in my life. I’ve had the world’s ultimate responsibility in a way most men never get to. I could have imagined it intellectually but not emotionally. You need to be in it to experience it. You can’t be told. It is a felt experience."
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Lisa D'Annolfo Levey is a consultant, speaker, and author on women's advancement, work-life and diversity management. She spent many years as a Senior Director of Advisory Services at Catalyst. She is the author of The Libra Solution: … Read more...