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Working dads help each other

Larry Kellogg says the juggle of acing exams, bringing home a paycheck and raising a family 30 years ago still ranks as the most challenging time in his life. It inspired him to set up a scholarship for other fathers working their way through law school.

Kellogg wants to help a new breed of working fathers, with new priorities.

Some are dubious that fathers would help other men with their lives. Clearly, women are pushing the policy changes and family-friendly programs that have landed companies on the Working Mothers list of Best Places to Work. But fathers seeking a better work-life balance are creating change, in more subtle ways.

They are colleagues who donate personal leave for another in need. They are role models who create workplaces where flexible work schedules and telecommuting becomes doable. They are entrepreneurs who start Daddy blogs and online support groups. And, they are fathers who help others shake off the long-standing pressure to get ahead at all costs.

''The number of male voices is rising from Gen X and Gen Y men in particular who are begining to demand more balance for themselves and their families,'' say researchers from the law firm of Heller Ehrman.

Ralph Baena, 28, a Miami-Dade firefighter, is from the generation that expects to be involved in their children's lives.

Baena understands the pull of work and home life as a father of a 14-month-old daughter. By swapping shifts, he often helps other fathers spend holidays, birthdays or special events with their kids. He says his chief, a father as well, supports the shift changes. ``The fire department is like a family in itself, and we try to back each other up especially when it comes to our individual families.''

BABIES ON THE WAY

When four senior managers at KPMG were expecting at the same time, the soon-to-be fathers made plans to cover each other's backs. Even though the firm's Parental Leave Program provides two weeks of personal time off, the fathers knew they would feel secure knowing a fellow expectant father was managing client expectations. ''Parental leave is great,'' Sean Olmsted said in a KPMG corporate publication. ''But the key to making it work even better was the new dads supporting each other.'' The buddy system since has become a way for parents firmwide to take parental leave or vacation time.

Today, more fathers participate in the routines of their children than prior generations -- even as they typically clock work weeks topping 45 hours. But they are struggling. In an Adecco Father's Day survey, the majority of dads said that they are likely to work late, and most think their companies should be doing more to help them achieve better work-life balance.

Even more, researchers from Heller Ehrman found that 71 percent of men ages 21-39 would give up some of their pay to spend more time with their families.

But when family-friendly policies exist, men resist. Harris Interactive claims that 59 percent of employed fathers would not take a paid paternity leave if it were offered, saying they couldn't afford to or it would harm their careers.

`LEADING BY EXAMPLE'

Change requires role models, experts say. Brian Reid, author of the popular blog Rebeldad, believes fathers most benefit others by taking advantage of policies on the books. ``Leading by example sounds uninspiring, but breaking down traditional roles has an impact.''

Reid not only pioneered paternity leave at his company seven years ago, he later became a stay-at-home dad who started a blog for other at-home dads. He compiled statistics and created forums for discussions. He says part of the reason his blog is successful is because it is ``hard to find critical mass of guys who talk openly about putting their jobs second.''

But Adecco's Rich Thompson thinks that's about to change. ``We're living in the age of uncertainty. Working fathers are realizing nothing is guaranteed or long term except for family.''

As a manager, Thompson tries to set a tone from the top. He frequently works from home and encourages his staff to do the same. ``If you live work-life balance, you become a promoter of it.''

In Miami, law partner Bill Walker, 62, sees young dads at his firm of White & Case endure enormous pressure to produce. ''It's all about how many hours you bill,'' he says. Once they have kids, Walker says, there's a lot of guilt. So, Walker began studying to become a minister and made it his job to counsel young fathers to give up late-night work habits and go home. "I tell them about the ministry of presence: `You only get one chance to raise your kids.' ''

As a father himself, Walker feels he can make a connection -- and a difference: ``I just want to help a couple of these young fathers make good choices.''



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