A few years ago I sat in an auditorium with several hundred other men as we listened intently to George Durrant motivate us to be better fathers. I’ll always remember what happened when we were asked if there were any questions.
A middle-aged working class man with muscles and a mustache gathered courage to speak and then stood up and emotionally asked, “What you say sounds great in the ideal world. But what do you expect me to do when I have nine kids and a wife to feed and I have to work 14 hours a day at two jobs just to keep body and soul together?”
He went on to list many additional reasons why his job situation made it so he just didn’t have the time nor energy to be the unhurried, sensitive and playful Dad being described to the group. He glared at Dr. Durrant as he concluded with the terse question, “So, what do you expect me to do?”
Dr. Durrant took a deep breath, paused, and then with emotion in his voice replied simply, “I would think that your wife and children would expect you to do your best. My friend, just do your best.”
As a work and family researcher I’ve taken the opportunity to ask many men and women, in less than ideal circumstances, how they “do their best” to harmonize the demands of the workplace with the needs of their home. Here is a smattering of what I’ve learned from a few of them.
One man’s livelihood required him to accept an assignment where he would be out of town frequently. He did his best by purchasing a speaker phone for his home. Every night and morning he literally calls his household to family prayer. They feel closer as a family by maintaining this tradition, even if they are kneeling together, 2500 miles apart.
A mother was concerned that her young teenagers were home after school without anyone to monitor their activities between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. each day. She did her best by taking advantage of her employer’s telecommuting program. She would work in the office until 3:00 p.m. and then finish out the day working on her laptop at home. By working at home she could monitor her adolescents’ activities.
Another father is a nationally recognized motivational speaker who gave more than 200 speeches around the world last year. He does his best by transacting all of his business on his laptop while on the plane. That way when he’s at home he can focus exclusively on his family. He has also installed video conferencing capability on his laptop. He talks face-to-face to each of his children and his wife at least twice each day. In addition he has millions of frequent flyer miles so takes his wife and children with him to exciting places several weeks each year.
A female manager colleague is a rising star in a major corporation. She wants to be a real mother to her two children. She did her best by approaching her management and requested a part-time work schedule. The request was granted and she now manages with great focus and urgency from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. each day and then goes home to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening being a mother to her children and a wife to her husband.
An executive who works long hours does his best by prominently displaying a portrait of his wife and seven children in his office. When he meets with a client his small talk often revolves around family members. He uses family metaphors to motivate his sales force. He says it keeps his own family fresh in his mind. When he unexpectedly has an extra moment, he calls home to chat with his wife and express his love.
A professor colleague of mine does his best by bringing his four-year old son to work with him on occasion. I can hear in the next office the exciting chattering of a young boy enthralled by being with his Dad in this place. This professor enlists his son’s support to do important work, like sorting the trash paper into the regular and recycle trash baskets. It is heart-warming to see this giant of a man being followed around everywhere by this charming little kid with thick glasses.
Many business travelers are allowed to save frequent flyer miles and use them to bring their spouse and or children on business trips. A friend did his best by turning a boring business trip to Armonk, New York into an exciting second honeymoon for him and his wife. They saw Broadway plays, ate at delectable restaurants, and renewed the excitement in their marriage.
While traveling on business, one mother did her best to keep on top of her elementary school-age children’s homework by using the hotel fax. Her children would fax their completed assignments, and she would review their progress over the phone. They also exchange handwritten notes, poetry, and pictures in this way.
Let me conclude with a personal example. A few years ago I found myself being drained by a 90-minute daily commute through heavy traffic. In the spirit of “doing my best” I decided to think outside the box and try something new.
I took a back road to work which was much less traveled but took about five minutes longer. Then I brought along a little handheld cassette, and started recording bedtime stories for my children. I could almost imagine them sitting in the back seat in their jammies. This made the time pass quickly and I would arrive at work and at home refreshed. The kids loved tapes and have listened to them many, many times over the years.
Well, it’s a challenge to be both a productive employee at work and at caring family member at home. It’s tough, but it’s surely worth it. Let’s do our best!
--E. Jeffrey Hill, BYU School of Family Life