Clint Schmidt, a father of two, finds it tough to juggle family life, a startup job and two hours of commuting every day. New dad Chris Schwarz is managing well so far, partly thanks to a short commute and bosses who also have young children at home. And single parent Garrett Gonzales has mastered the balancing act for now, but he worries about the next stage in his life.
Although the stress of finding a so-called "work-life balance" is often associated with mothers who work outside the home, the same tension is an increasingly common phenomenon for fathers, too.
More so than in past generations, many of today's fathers are under subtle -- or not so subtle -- pressure from societal mores and/or from their spouses to be involved in their children's day-to-day lives. That can include much more than just showing up for soccer games: It can be feeding and bathing babies, ferrying older kids to music lessons, or making sure high-schoolers are filling out college applications on time. And many dads want that level of involvement.
"There's now a culturally created model of kind of a 'Superdad,' like a 'Supermom,' " says Michael J. Diamond, a clinical psychologist, associate professor at UCLA and author of "My Father Before Me: How Fathers and Sons Influence Each Other Throughout Their Lives." Many fathers "feel like they're not working hard enough as well as not parenting well enough ... instead of just feeling 'what I'm doing is good enough,' " he says.
Schmidt, a Kensington resident whose commute via BART to San Francisco takes about an hour door-to-door each weekday, says he feels that the "dueling demands" of professional accomplishment and parental involvement "are absolutely in constant competition."
He typically arrives home from work after his infant son is asleep and his toddler daughter is in her pajamas. He and his wife, Samantha, deliberately chose that he would keep on his career track while she cut back on her law career and stayed home with the kids, so he has adopted a "no-whining" attitude in regards to his fast-paced work schedule.
Still, even though his kids are very young, he's already wondering how he will juggle work and family life when his kids are someday enrolled in sports programs and other activities he'd like to attend.
"That is a huge source of anxiety for me, because I know that's coming, and I just don't know how I'll reconcile it," says Schmidt, 37, who is vice president of marketing for a gift-buying service called Wantful.
Schmidt says he has no leisure time for himself on weekends now, but that's also by design. "That's my time to pack in the time with the kids."
Schmidt says part of his situation is dictated by a career spent working for startups, which are notorious for long, full-throttle hours.
"Dads feel tremendous responsibility and anxiety around the protecting and providing for their families," says Jerrold Lee Shapiro, professor of counseling psychology at Santa Clara University and author of three books on fatherhood, as well as the new baby-boomer-centric "Finding Meaning, Facing Fears in the Autumn of Your Years." "And so what do you do with the anxiety about feeling left out of your kid's life, or feeling you're as distant or more distant than your own father was? They fight against that."
Shapiro agrees that startup culture is not typically family-friendly. Based on his discussions with executives and human resources professionals in major technology companies, he says: "In Silicon Valley, the 26-hour work day is alive and well."
For those in the area that are not employed, he says, "one of the few upsides to the down economy is that many more dads are having time with their kids."
Generally speaking, American culture is changing to accept that fathers ought to spend time nurturing their families, Diamond says.
"There's much more of an understanding of how important fathers' involvement with children is," he says. Not only is dads' involvement beneficial for kids, he says, but men change as they parent their kids.
"Fathers learn about themselves from children, but they also learn about what it means to be a man," Diamond says.
Santa Clara resident Schwarz, 30, is one of the lucky dads whose company has been very supportive of his parenting responsibilities. He took some paternity leave when his son, 3-month-old Jackson, was born; now that he's back at work, he has been able to attend every one of his son's pediatric checkups.
It helps that two of the principals at Canyon Snow, the consulting firm he works for, both women, also have young children. Schwarz said at his workplace there is a "mutual understanding" that employees need to be effective at their jobs "but also be available and flexible for our families."
Partly because of that, Schwarz says he feels he has all the tools to be able to achieve work-life balance.
"You still have to strive for it and work for it and have that ongoing commitment, but I feel successful so far. I haven't missed a doctor's appointment, nor have I missed any commitments at work."
He usually has to travel for work a few times a year and says he and his wife, Laura Montafi -- who will return to her nursing career after maternity leave -- will be able to get help from their parents during times when he must be away.
He says he's hoping to set a good example for his son as an involved dad.
"Maybe it's starting to change that paradigm where it's always mom picking up kids from school and taking them to soccer practice," he says. "I'm looking forward to being a full partner in parenting."
Diamond says that there are many varieties of work-life balance stress for fathers, especially given that there are so many different kinds of family structures in modern society, from blended families to same-sex partnerships to divorced or single parents.
San Jose resident Gonzales, for example, is a single father who shares custody of his 2-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, with his ex-girlfriend.
In the year-plus since Gonzales, 25, gained partial custody of his daughter, he of course has fed her, bathed her, put her to sleep and taken her to fun places like Happy Hollow Zoo and mundane places like the grocery store. He says his mastery of so many aspects of parenting sometimes surprises both friends and family.
Dad the hairdresser
"Everyone thinks I can't do her hair, but I actually can," he says. "People say, 'Did Grandma do your hair?' and I say, 'No, I did it.' They're shocked and confused by that stuff."
Gonzales, a comedian who's had some success here and in Los Angeles, is trying to headline more shows and take his career to the next level, including more television appearances. He's also working part-time at night for FedEx. But he is concerned about how he will juggle his parenting responsibilities if and when he starts working more in L.A. or elsewhere outside the Bay Area.
"I'm actually worried about it. I'm dreading it," he says.
To counteract that fear, he says, he tries hard to focus on "spending time with the baby and blocking out all the negative stuff. ... It's better than thinking about everything unraveling because you've got so much to juggle."
Contact Sue McAllister at 408-920-5833. Follow her at Twitter.com/suemcal.
Sources: Michael J. Diamond, Jerrold Lee Shapiro