Harry’s co-founder, Andy Katz-Mayfield talks about trying to navigate this whole ‘working dad’ thing.
It occurred to me as I was trying to get through airport security with my 7-month-old daughter—while on a call with an investor, doing my best to prevent said daughter from eating the phone—that very few men talk about what it’s like to be a working dad.
Along with my co-founder, I run Harry’s, a men’s grooming company, and my wife Lacey is a senior writer and editor at The Hollywood Reporter. Our careers are important to us. So we always agreed that when it came time to build our family, we wanted to do it as a team; in order for both of us to continue in our fast-paced careers and raise children, we would truly co-parent. In theory, it sounded like a lot of fun!
So far, it has been. But as I’ve learned since the birth of my not theoretical daughter, Chloe, it’s also really hard. Which I fully recognize is not groundbreaking wisdom. But here’s what has surprised me: the men I know don’t talk about what it’s like to be a working dad.
I’ve struggled to find a space to talk about balancing work with parenthood.
To be clear, becoming a parent is much, much harder for my wife – pregnancy, childbirth and pausing a career to take maternity leave are realities for most working mothers. But Lacey does have one thing that I’ve struggled to find: a space to talk about balancing work with parenthood. Due in part to the physical, mental and emotional tolls of pregnancy and childbirth, moms often find community in those shared experiences. My wife quickly gravitated toward other professional women who were similarly struggling to balance parenthood with their careers—her (female) boss has three kids, and has served as an amazing example and resource for Lacey. On a larger scale, there are blogs, books and resources for mothers returning to work; people expect moms to take parental leave and, for better or for worse, the demands of raising an infant are often assumed by women.
But there are plenty of working dads out there, too. And it feels like we haven’t quite caught up. We haven’t yet built that community—the men in my life don’t talk about what it’s like to be deeply invested in both professional ambition and fatherhood. And the world still doesn’t expect us to be equal co-parents. Which is a bummer, because I could use more support.
It feels like we haven’t quite caught up. We haven’t yet built that community…
In part, I struggle with my own vulnerability. Do my friends want to get a text about how excited I am that Chloe now eats yogurt? (If not, I’m sorry guys…) Will coworkers judge me for declining a meeting invitation because it’s during bedtime? When my wife is traveling for work, is it weird to invite a couple of dudes to a picnic with my baby in Washington Square Park? Is it sweet, distracting, inappropriate, or some combination of the above to bring your kid to work? Should I tell people I leave the office at 6, not because I have to go home, but because I want to go home? (Mostly to read Giraffes Can’t Dance, which is a great book…)
In addition to the emotional aspects of new fatherhood, the struggle to raise a newborn while returning to work is also logistical. Put simply: I wish I’d taken more time out of the office after Chloe was born to re-adjust to the pace of my job and the competing demands of fatherhood.
My rush back to work was mostly self-imposed; less the result of our paternity policy, and more a by-product of social pressures I had internalized over the course of my career. Most of my male peers and role models only took a week or two off after the birth of a child, and so that’s what I believed people expected of me.
That’s my own fault, born out of my own insecurities. And it’s a choice made possible in the context of real privilege. I’m fortunate to have resources that make balancing work and family much easier for me than it is for lots of guys, like an amazing nanny and a job that offers flexibility.
If I’m struggling to navigate this whole ‘working dad’ thing, then other guys must be grappling with it, too.
In fact, I feel compelled to share my experience in part because I acknowledge how lucky I am. If I’m struggling to navigate this whole ‘working dad’ thing, then other guys must be grappling with it, too. Times ten. If I’m craving a space to share experiences and normalize true co-parenthood, I have to believe I’m not the only one.
Tackling the problem at a macro level is hard. But I do have the power to make real change within my microcosm…Harry’s. My co-founder and I want to make sure that everyone on our team feels 100% supported, as employees and as parents. To that end, we’re excited to offer a new, progressive policy: 16 weeks of equitable paid parental leave, taken any time within the first year, to every person on our team. That applies to men, women, transgender, birthing parents and non-birthing parents. Everyone.
The ways in which this program benefits new dads is obvious. But the policy isn’t just meant to support men—it’s also intended to support women by enabling true co-parenting, allowing families to make personal choices. Some people might decide to take the full 4 months and others won’t. That’s OK. The goal is not to dictate right or wrong, but to offer our team real flexibility and control. Because all parents deserve the resources and tools to make the best decisions for their families; to be great coworkers, and also great parents.
All parents deserve the resources and tools to make the best decisions for their families; to be great coworkers, and also great parents.
Our parental leave policy is a small, localized step towards building a community that embraces working parents. I recognize that in a lot of ways it fails to fully address the core struggle: the ongoing act of balancing a career with parenthood. A policy won’t make cross-country flights with my infant any easier, or answer all of the questions I have about teething. That said, we’re trying to offer support – alongside the paid time off, we’re building a network of resources, like a flexible re-boarding program that encourages new parents to continue their jobs through part-time hours, customized planning and work-from-home flexibility.
What I hope the program does do is begin to normalize all different kinds of parenthood and support both new moms and new dads. So although our parental leave policy is not the be-all-end-all solution, it comes from a place of deep personal empathy, and I hope shows important progress.