When Barack Obama was elected President, he made two things clear: He was going to overhaul health care, and he was going to be home for dinner.
Ronda Kaysen: Well, he's achieved one of those things, and we all know it isn't health-care reform.
Obama has shown that a dad can be involved in his kids' lives, even if he's the President. He regularly attends parent-teacher conferences, recitals, soccer games and family dinners. Even planning war revolves around his kids' bedtime routine: A November huddle about ramping up troop levels in Afghanistan started at 8 PM, after the Obama girls were tucked in for the night. The President recently ducked out of a health-care powwow to watch Malia perform flute at Sidwell Friends School -- a move that got the attention of the New York Times. He came back after the recital and wrapped things up before midnight.
"There are certain things that are sacrosanct on his schedule: kids' recitals, soccer games, basketball games, school meetings," Obama's senior advisor, David Axelrod, told the Times. "These are circled in red on his calendar, and regardless of what's going on he's going to make those. I think that's part of how he sustains himself through all this."
Supporters hail Obama for giving voice to the turmoil of the modern dad -- the father who's as torn about balancing life and work as mothers have always been.
In fact, 59 percent of men experience work/life conflict, according to a survey conducted by the Families and Work Institute. That's a significant jump from 1977, when only 35 percent of men reported feeling that way.
Critics, however, call out Obama on two fronts. One: Americans didn't elect him to be a good dad. And two: It's nice that the boss can break for dinner, but the underlings he's summoned to his office can't go home to their own kids. Obama's sharp-tongued chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, once famously called Obama out himself, saying, "family-friendly to your family."
I think the critics are missing the point. Americans may not care whether or not Barack eats with his kids, but they certainly don't care if Rahm Emanuel does.
What they probably care about -- or at least the 59 percent of men who want to be home for dinner do, anyway -- is getting home to their own kids for dinner. And that's something the President could do something about.
I applaud Obama for setting a tone that family is as important as work. But I'd like to see him do more than show us how much he values his own daughters. This is not about the working dad realizing he needs to show up for the soccer game. It's about labor laws that need to reflect our changing society. It would be nice if he'd follow up his personal choices with political action. He could advocate for laws that support universal paternity leave and expand the Family Leave Act.
In these tough times, it might seem counterintuitive to call for less time at the office. But a little breathing room is exactly what working families could use. With layoffs come ramped up hours and intense pressure for those who've survived the grim rounds of pink slips. Those families need relief, too. Spending time with your kids isn't just about setting priorities, it's about having an employer who allows for it. Rahm Emanuel has a point: He can't be with his own kids because his boss told him to work late. And that's pretty true across the board.
It's wonderful that we have a President who values spending time with his family. It would be nice to have one who does something to make sure the rest of us can enjoy ours, too.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, The New York Observer, Babble.com and AM New York. She lives in New Jersey with her family. Follow her on Twitter.|