Awww, What a Good Father

In my Chronicle piece on being a father, I wrote:

No one has ever questioned my work ethic to my face because I’m a father. In fact, one day I was so tired from caring for my two children—at the time a 2-year-old boy and a 3-month-old baby girl with colic—that I simply lost my ability to speak coherently in front of my colleagues. I stood up to talk at a very important meeting and nothing came out. I invoked my exhausted state, apologized, and went home. There were no consequences. If anything, my role as a working dad raised my profile within my institution, even before I started writing about those issues for CNN.

Thinking some more, I wrote the following:

First of all, I chatted with my dean this morning about various things. He does not remember this and I’m not surprised. I also believe, very strongly, that my institution is such that if a mother had a similar moment, she would be treated very well. But we are an institution founded by nuns and infused with their culture even as their numbers decline; I’m very lucky to be in this special place.

I’ve been talking about academic parenting for a long time now and have heard hundreds of stories. My sense is that few feel their institutions would be so supportive; moreover, few women would have felt safe enough to say such a thing.  Likely, our hypothetical tired mother would have just sat silently, knowing herself to be exhausted, unable to risk speaking, and so her voice would be silenced.

This is male privilege – to escape consequence even after you screw up. Awww, what a good father, they say. And you know what? I try really hard to be a good father. What a good father is the right answer! The question is how do we create space so that reaction tracks across genders.

The point isn’t that I got away with something; I was doing my best. It was a moment of failed work/life integration, but one of my lessons about work/life issues is that it’s ok to let a ball drop sometimes.

The point is that the consequences track with privilege.

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