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On the Daddy Track : Men: Working fathers face the dilemma working mothers always have: family or career? More are making decisions based not on work but on how their kids will be affected.

June 30, 1993|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For David Kipper, having a family was never a question.

He adored his parents, who stayed married until death did them part. He loved his two brothers. He treasured the remarkable feeling of closeness and connection they shared.

In his own life script, he could think of "nothing more creative, nothing more humorous, nothing more enlightening" than watching this cycle repeat itself in a family of his own. "I thought I would grow up to be Ward Cleaver," says the 45-year-old Beverly Hills doctor.

But Kipper is a single father now, custodial parent to a son named Sam. He and Sam's mother never married, and ever since the child came home from the hospital three years ago, Sam has lived with with his dad.

It's meant an endless series of adjustments, placing Kipper among a tiny radar-screen blip of men who are realigning their professional lives to accommodate their families. Scaling back hours at work, turning down transfers, saying no to promotions, even spending hard-earned vacation time at home with the kids are dilemmas that routinely plague mothers who work outside the home. Slowly, some men are coming head-to-head with the same tough choices--and some of them are making decisions in favor of their families.

But Jim Levine, who has studied this phenomenon as head of the Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute in New York, cautions that it is by no means widespread. "It's an evolution, not a revolution," he says.

This still-emerging pattern came to light recently when Gary Hart, a Democratic state senator, announced he was leaving California politics to devote more time to his wife and children. "The amount of time away from my family has been enormous," he said. "And the prospect of being an absent father . . . is just too high a price to pay."

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Mothers who work outside the home offer a near-universal lament of perpetual fatigue. There is simply never enough time to do it all, they complain. Almost always, their own needs are the first to fall by the wayside. Often, the juggling act of career and family means professional and financial compromise--part-time jobs, for example, and high-priced child care.

For many women, this conundrum often evokes an uneasy mixture of bitterness, anger and resignation. The situation's not great, they say, but that's the way it is. But with no road map to follow, men tend to find these complications startling and scary. Financial down-stepping, in particular, is difficult for most men--who, after all, are accustomed to defining themselves on the basis of job and income, not time spent with kids. Ward Cleaver, lest we forget, was the breadwinner not the bread baker.

And most men are still neophytes in the strange, uncharted world of work and family. "They are just beginning to struggle with the issues that women have been grappling with for years," says Dr. Warren Farrell, author of the forthcoming book "The Myth of Male Power." Their role remains ill-defined, compounding a sense of confusion and insecurity that is especially discomfiting to Homo Americanus, vintage 1993.

"Men," says Farrell, "are in 1993 where women were in 1953." And even in 1993, working father is barely a phrase in the national vocabulary.

But historical comparisons are of scant interest to Kipper, who has shaved his medical practice in half so he can be with Sam as much as possible. Without disclosing exact figures, Kipper explains that this has meant a commensurate cut in his handsome, six-figure salary.

A full-time housekeeper doubles as a baby sitter when Kipper is at work. But even with a reduced caseload, he sometimes struggles to meet the day's demands. For instance, his insistence on tucking Sam into bed each evening means that he now makes hospital visits to his patients late at night.

His reconfigured schedule has piqued some male colleagues, whose wives wonder why they can't manage to make it home to tuck in the kids. Meanwhile, he is so busy running play groups or driving Sam to swimming lessons that he has little time to do things like buy clothes for himself. And guess what, Kipper--like the working moms he meets at preschool--is constantly exhausted. "Whipped," is how he puts it, to be exact.

"It has affected every part of my life," Kipper says. "Yet for all of this, I wouldn't have traded this experience for the world."

He had the economic wherewithal to make a family-based job decision. Most men, fearful of financial impotence in the cheeriest of economic times, are especially insecure about reducing their salaries in a period of national economic uncertainty. Turning down a transfer or a position that requires extensive travel may mean a cost in career prestige as well as income. And in the current economic climate, most men don't even have the opportunity to consider such an option.

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