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Daddy-Daughter Balancing Act

In September, 2001 (just days before the 9/11 attacks), I had to make a business trip to France.  Normally, I wouldn’t ask for anyone’s sympathy for such a hardship, but the trip happened just three months after my wife and I had returned from China from adopting our first daughter.  I was wracked with guilt over leaving for ten days, even though I knew how important the trip was.  I even spent quite a bit of money to return home just one day earlier, something that seems so irrational in retrospect, but I did without giving it a single thought.

One night in Lyon over dinner I asked an older colleague who had traveled a lot to Europe when his kids were little if he ever felt this kind of guilt.  His reply has always stuck with me: “Fatherhood guilt is for your generation, not mine.”  He told me that he thought my generation of dads had it much harder, because we had to balance work and family time, whereas for his generation work always took priority.

I know that mine is not the first generation of fathers to balance work and family, but there does seem to be a change.  I talk to a lot of fathers who cancel important business trips (to say nothing of fishing trips, high school reunions, and weekends with the guys) because they feel they should be home with their families.  Maybe that’s a good thing, and most of us give up those trips not because we think our families expect it, but because we’d rather spend the time with family.

I’m not asking for too much sympathy for dads.  I know that moms, especially single moms, deal with these problems, too.  I also know that past generations of dads were not all like my friend.  I am, however, saying that the roles for fathers are changing and, in some cases, putting new pressures on fathers who want to be both great dads and the best career people they can be.

For me, it means trying the best I can to combine the two.  I had to go back to France this past summer and this time, instead of going by myself, I brought my family with me.  We can’t afford to do this every time I travel, of course, but it was well worth all the extra saving and effort to make it happen.  I worked by day and explored Paris at night and weekends with my wife and daughters, eating crêpes, riding carousels, and having hot chocolate and croissants every morning in “our” café.   If this is what balance between work and family means, I can get used to it.

So on this father’s day, let’s celebrate a generation of dads who have made the commitment to tackle the challenge of being both career-oriented and active fathers.  Happy Father’s Day to you!

Michael Neiberg is a professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi.  His wife Barbara and their two daughters are looking forward to spending the next year in their home state of Pennsylvania while he works for the U.S. Army War College and to taking many family weekend trips around the East Coast.

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  • Adam E says:

    Great article Michael.
    For me, it’s more about wanting to spend time with my family over other things. Bicycle racing used to be my big focus all summer. Now I’m hardly on the bike in between races and it doesn’t really bother me because I know that the time I’m spending with wife and daughter is worth it in the long run. Of course, when my daughter starts getting as fast as me on the bike, then I’ll add the extra training as needed. 😉

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