Can fathers have it all

I am amazed at how quickly ‘amusing’ memes emerge online when something significant happens. As soon as the first lockdown was announced during the COVID crisis in 2020, a 10 second clip was sent to me by a friend. Click here to view the video.

The voice over

The voice says: ‘Because of Coronavirus you are going to be quarantined, but you have a choice. Do you ‘A’, quarantine with your wife and child or do you ‘B’…’. The man quickly interrupts. He doesn’t need to hear any more, he doesn’t need to hear the other solution. ‘B’ he says quickly and assuredly. He doesn’t even know how bad the other option could be, but he’ll take it. Surely nothing can be worse than option A!

First of all, I will admit I found this very funny, but I accept it may not be to everyone’s taste. Secondly, it is a representation of something we need to discuss.

Should More of Us Men Be Willing to Choose A?

Shouldn’t we at least take our time before making the decision? Consciously or unconsciously, when having to prioritise between home and career, a large percentage of men (myself included) choose their careers. We didn’t all wake up one day and decide to do this, for many, this was something we sleepwalked into. For many, it may have been a build-up of smaller but incremental ‘micro-prioritisations’. Accepting that 5:30pm meeting and missing bath-time, not doing drop-offs or pick-ups from school, taking that work trip that could have been done remotely, expecting your partner to answer when the school calls, sending e-mails to your boss on a Saturday morning while having breakfast with the kids.

All small things, but now we see no way back:

  • ‘It doesn’t make financial sense for me to spend more time at home’
  • ‘My work can’t accommodate a decision to spend more time with my family’
  • ‘You don’t understand’
  • ‘The company will see me differently’

I’ve said all of these things. I wasn’t happy and I felt that any change would be a compromise. Many of us men may feel trapped in our lifestyle, our salary, our reputation and our constant comparison to our peers; but these are self-imposed burdens. My identity was (and maybe still is) too dependent on my career success.

In November 2016, when my second daughter was born, my wife asked me if I would consider shared parental leave. No! I felt like it wasn’t even an option. When you feel like you have no other choice, you have no hope for change. But you do have a choice.

Thanks to my wife continuing to challenge me in this area, I have realised that as men we can have it all. What do I mean by ‘all’? Based in Fort Collins Colorado, The Paterson Center encourages us to look at life through four equally weighted ‘domains’.

  1. Your Personal Domain – Your own physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual health
  2. Your Family Domain – Your spouse (if you’re married), your kids (if you have them) and your close family
  3. Your Vocational Domain – Your work or career
  4. Your Local Community, your faith community (if you have one), and your circle of friends.

The model encourages you to appraise each domain and take action based on this appraisal.

*The Paterson Center

Having it ‘all’

For me, having it ‘all’ is about having the best of all domains.

Tragically, many of us might de-prioritise our own wellbeing (Personal Domain) both physical and mental. We use our work (Vocational Domain) to justify why we don’t spend enough time with our children and partners (Family Domain). Guys, we need to re-define success before we sleepwalk into unfulfilled, high stress, absent and unhealthy lives; or maybe you are already there. This is something our children won’t thank us for in the long run. It’s not too late to make some very intentional changes.

I don’t know about you but when I look back on my life, I want my life domains to be well balanced. I want the same for my wife and two girls. If my life isn’t balanced, my wife’s life won’t be balanced. Something always has to give. For example, prioritising my career means my wife cannot prioritise hers without it affecting our time with the children. Changing this may mean our household income reduces, but is that such a compromise if everything else should improve? My well-being, both physical and mental health is directly linked to the wellbeing of every individual in my family. What is the price of that?

I am consciously trying to make better decisions in order to look after myself, to be a great family member, to do good fulfilling work and also spend quality time with friends and in the community. I still haven’t got it right; I’ve often failed trying. But I’d rather be consciously incompetent and trying to change than do nothing at all.

There have been a few men that I deeply respect who have told me that they wish they had made such a choice sooner. My conviction is that it’s never too late. Have you got the balance right? Or are all your eggs in one unfulfilling basket? If you believe a better life is one that is more balanced and more fulfilled than the life you’re living right now, make a conscious choice to change something. Is more of Option A really such a bad thing? Don’t assume anything, try it first.

The UK lockdown policy that came into play in 2020 has meant that for many we had no choice but to go with option A. We had to stay at home and most men I spoke to really appreciated it. We enjoyed the time with our children, and they enjoyed the time with us (whether they showed it or not). We found ourselves eating better, exercising more and commuting less.

So, which of these great things are you going to give up now you’ve experienced both options?