The dads these days are different, some experts say. They are businessmen who can't bring themselves to divide their work and home lives like compartments in their hardwood desks.
They are career men who clamor for better relationships with their families and take work-sponsored seminars to figure out how to bridge the gaps between them and their children.In an ironic aftertone to the feminist movement, there is a national trend under way that recognizes the contribution of fathers, especially working dads, to the preservation of family.
Stephen Covey, author of the 1986 best-seller "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," recognized this movement in the corporate environment while doing research for his book and came out with its 1997 sequel, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families."
"In the last eight to 10 years, when our trainers would go to corporations, school districts, businesses and governments, people would ask them about improving their home and family," said John Covey, Stephen's brother and also director of Provo-based Franklin Covey Company's Home and Family Division.
"They felt a real pain in their relationships with their teenagers," noted John. "The question was, how could we take the 7 Habits into their homes and families?" he added.
So, they took the original 7 Habits, born with a business orientation, and turned them into stepping stones for better family relationships.
A friend of the Coveys, featured in the "7 Habits of Highly Effective Families" book, found his relationship with his daughter trans-formed after taking one piece of advice to heart.
The idea the man followed was to look at relationships like emotional bank accounts. He resolved that for 30 days, he would make five deposits into his daughter's emotional bank account, and not take any withdrawals.
This meant being kind, loyal, forgiving, apologizing and keeping promises, as well as not straining the relationship, which he discovered had an overdrawn balance.
While his efforts were initially met with cynicism and disbelief, he found that his daughter was able to talk with him, and confide in him, weeks after he made his commitment.
John and Stephen, raised in the family-oriented environment of Utah, were not the only ones to feel the need of working fathers to connect with their families.
James Levine, founder of Fatherhood Project at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City, also travels the world giving seminars aimed at reducing what he calls the work-family conflict in many working father's lives.
"I think there is a greater social awareness (on working fathers) that can be seen markedly over the last two decades," said Levine.
When Levine founded Fatherhood Project in 1981, there were no other national organizations that addressed the role of the working dad, he said.
In the past two years, Levine added, the social awareness has shifted from working mothers to the dads.
Why the change? Part of the reason, Levine said, is because the influx of women into the paid work force has caused men to re-evaluate their roles at home.
But it is also because working men are searching within themselves and deciding that they want a different relationship with their kids than they had with their fathers, he noted.
Levine also has a book out, "Working Fathers." He highlights some of its principles in his seminar, Daddy Stress/Daddy Success.
In a seminar which he gave at the Salt Lake City Inc. 500 Conference June 23, he said that connecting between home, family and school helps working parents reduce the stress they feel about meeting obligations in each area.
To close the gap between the three areas, Levin suggested that working parents:
- Bring kids to the office on a Saturday, or take time to explain what parents do at work. This helps children understand what it is parents do all day, Levine said.
- Have a tradition of calling at a certain time while being away on business trips.
- Visit the child's classroom before parent conference night, and walk around the room to get an idea of ongoing projects.
- Enforce bedtimes so that parents have time to spend together everyday.
Whether working parents, especially dads, find more solace in one formula over another, it seems the bottom line is that a businesslike, goal-oriented approach to family strengthening is catching on.
For a lot of working parents, these ideas are a way to get closer to the thing they most desire: an emotionally close family as strong as they hope their business will be.