Financial Times

by Simon Kuper / December 11, 2015

‘I grew up thinking I would fulfil myself through work. Kids, I dimly imagined, would be taken care of by my lovely wife.’

Like almost everybody with a laptop, I’m trying to write a TV series. Only one thing stands between me and greatness: time. Between the day job and the kids, there isn’t any.

Most dads I know live more or less like this. Since having children, they have been saying painful goodbyes to their ambitions. True, men still have far more space for careers than most women do. But younger dads especially are starting to make the same compromises as mums. If men ever discussed these issues, you could say we were soul-searching.

Like most middle-aged men, I grew up thinking I would fulfil myself through work. Kids, I dimly imagined, would be taken care of by my lovely wife. My place was at my desk. As Anne-Marie Slaughter explains in Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, from the 1960s the women’s movement copied this male notion. She writes: “We focused on being allowed to do that work ourselves, helping to make a fetish of income-generating work as a foundation of self-worth.”

But men are now changing. In my own sphere, very few of my male friends fetishise career over family. One friend ditched his ambition of running a big institution because it would have meant being out most evenings. Instead, he’s a consultant. Another followed his wife’s job to a provincial town, where he works intermittently. A third has been a nearly full-time single parent since his girlfriend died. Divorced friends cannot move for better jobs, because they won’t leave their children. Then there’s the guy who turned down a plum job in Silicon Valley because he wanted to see his kids grow up.

And standards for next-generation fathers will be higher. The younger the father, the more time he is likely to spend with his kids, found the Families and Work Institute in the US. There’s a lot of research to show millennial men give high priority to their role as dads. Mums still do most childcare but, among millennials, gender roles are unprecedentedly blurred.

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