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Guest editorial: reworking work and family issues for fathers.

Researchers who focus their attention on some facet of the gender puzzle are faced with the challenge of making visible a set of dynamics that are often so obvious and embedded in our taken-for-granted lives that they are almost impossible to see. For example, in a simple turn of phrase, Levine and Pitt made the invisible glaringly apparent when they coined the phrase "working fathers" in their 1995 landmark book. Our preoccupation with the work-family conflicts experienced by women as they moved into the paid labour force had blinded us to the emerging conflicts experienced by men as they sought to navigate their work and family lives. With this declaration, Levine and Pitt helped us to see what we had overlooked: that there was an important struggle for men that we needed to address. Although there has been an explosion of research on fatherhood in the past two decades, the story line in the work and family literature continues to be dominated by the challenges faced by women and mothers as they seek to reconcile the demands of paid work and their responsibilities to provide care to the family.

Devoting a special issue of Fathering to the challenges of work and family for men is part of the effort to make these challenges more salient, understandable, and part of an emerging agenda for change. In the same way that the conditions of paid work were and continue to be a political issue for women, the conditions under which men provide care within the context of their working lives must be a political issue. Only when we have a better understanding of the dynamics, constraints, and opportunities that affect the ways men provide care to their children, parents, and partners can we participate fully in a social agenda of change designed to enhance gender equity at home and at work.

Comparing contemporary families to recent cohorts, we see decreases in gender role specialization in achieving overall levels of waged and non-waged family work. Contemporary men and women are providing less than previous cohorts in areas of traditional gendered exclusivity and experiencing similar kinds of pressures as they tread in opposite directions toward egalitarianism. Men and women have begun to embrace greater responsibility in realms where prior generations practiced a greater degree of gender segregation. However, if egalitarianism is a benchmark, there are still significant changes ahead for both men and women in balancing work and family.

There are several conditions of culture that make the work and family issue different for men. First, work and family for men have not been steeped in a discourse of choice. Work and family became an important political issue for women because they were choosing to work after decades of either being deliberately excluded from the paid labour force or told that their proper place was in the home. By contrast, it is culturally assumed that men will work and pay attention to their families (in that order). There has been a continuity in the expectation of paid work for men, with the result being that women have tended to experience more guilt, stress, and conflict by virtue of choosing to add work to their family responsibilities. For men, it has been a rise in the expectations to provide care--in a reactive fashion--that has heightened attention to work and family issues.

Second, the reactive positioning of men to women's entry into the labour force has been shrouded in a discourse of deficiency,. The battle cry, as William Goode so succinctly phrased it is, "Why do men resist?" Women were moving into the labour force at the speed of light, and men were picking up the slack at home at the speed of a glacier. Hence, one of the dominant ways that the discussion about work and family conflict has been framed has been to emphasize men's failure to carry their fair share at home. Not only was there an invisibility about work-family conflict for men, but men were seen as adding to the problem for women. The main story line was that men didn't have a direct problem with work-family conflict but they sure added to the problem being experienced by women.

Third, although women and men work side-by-side in similar kinds of jobs, their workplace practices continue to be shaped by a deeply gendered workplace culture. This is manifest in the expectation that women need flexibility strategies more than men because they carry a greater sense of responsibility for care. It is manifest in the expectation that men take leave only when they really have to (why isn't your partner doing this?), that men are at greater risk of compromising loyalty when they choose family over work, or that men use parental leaves as a way of increasing their leisure time. With these residues of traditional gender expectations actively playing out in the workplace, it is not an environment that encourages men to confidently take advantage of workplace flexibility strategies.

These conditions of culture play a powerful role in shaping the way men seek to balance their work and family lives. They give rise to a number of contradictions and tensions that make change difficult on the work and family frontier. Nevertheless change is underway. Though not steeped in the same pattern of making choices about work and family, men are increasingly aware that choices are available. Although discrepancies still exist between the family work that women and men do, the pattern is one of convergence with women doing less and men doing more. While workplace cultures are resistant to change, men are increasingly demanding flexibility strategies that open pathways for their greater involvement as fathers and caregivers.

In the issue that follows, we are pleased to present five papers dealing with very different aspects of the work-family puzzle. Using the metaphor of "edges," the Palkovitz and Daly paper seeks to lay out a conceptual groundwork for examining work-family issues for men at midlife. McDonald and Almeida explore the "interweave" of work and family life for fathers, demonstrating the interconnections between the daily conditions of their work and their ability to provide emotional support to their children. Based on life history interviews with low-income fathers, Roy explores how precarious employment conditions affect fathers' perspectives on providing and caregiving. Doucet examines the way stay-at-home fathers manage the masculine identity issues of provider, worker, and caregiver when these are blurred in the experience of being at home. Barrah, Schultz, Baltes, and Stolz use data from the 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce to examine the antecedents and outcomes of work-family conflict as it relates to the provision of eldercare. Together these papers provide multiple vantage points on the many-layered, complex, and dynamic relationships involved as fathers rework work and family issues.


Levine, J., & Pitt, E.W. (1995). New expectations: Community strategies for responsible fatherhood. New York: Families and Work Institute.


University of Guelph, Ontario


University of Delaware
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Author:Palkovitz, Rob
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2004
Previous Article:Paternal involvement and infant-father attachment: a Q-set study.
Next Article:Eyeing the edges: theoretical considerations of work and family for fathers in midlife development.

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