After spending 11 years as a working father in a variety of environments, I can tell you that it is exceedingly more difficult for me to obtain the same kind of parental leeway granted to female co-workers. For me, and for many men like me, leaving work early to pick up kids, or to attend a PTA meeting, for example, is nowhere near as simple or socially acceptable.
The general attitude in the workplace towards these dads is, "Don't the kids have a Mom? Can't she take care of it?" As a dad, you're usually less of a parent in the eyes of workplace superiors. You are seen as less essential to your kid, meaning by implication that you can, and should, give more of yourself to the job than a mom should be expected to. This attitude is tough enough to combat as a married father, who can, however unfairly, fall back on that maternal involvement when need be. But what about divorced dads, who either have full custody of their children, or, if they share custody, are solely responsible for their kids during the time they have them? There is no Mom for me to fall back on during those times.
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When I ask for permission to leave early on the evenings that I have my kids—so that I can pick them up from my all-too-accommodating parents and don't have to throw food down their throats and immediately toss them into bed—I'm met with a decidedly cold response.
I still distinctly recall the time I politely inquired if I could bring my 8-year-old son into the office for a few hours on a day his school was closed. I suggested he could quietly work at an empty desk for a bit while I got a few things done in the office. I certainly didn't expect that permission would be guaranteed, but I also didn't expect the response to be so perfunctory and downright rude: a curt email that read, simply, "You will have to find another alternative. Thank you."
I would have settled for, "Look, I wish I could, but then every parent in the office would be asking for the same." Or any kind of balanced, compassionate response. But I may as well have been asking for a seat on the board of directors. I was made to feel inadequate as an employee, as if I'm a liability. Worst of all, I've watched female co-workers granted this and other privileges it requires me a near act of Congress to secure.
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So while it is certainly true that men do get a better deal in the workplace than most women, each time I have to miss my daughter's cello performance, or pawn my son off on amiable friends and family who already do too much, that feels like a small consolation. It's an offensive workplace double standard that is unfair not only to working fathers themselves, but to the mothers being confined to outdated gender roles by default.