Writing about work-life balance isn't my full-time job, but I try to stay on top of the trends regarding the topic.
Lately, the issue of balance has been in the news so much that keeping up with everything has been difficult.
Many recent books and articles have focused on work-life balance from a female perspective, outlining working women's challenges as they struggle to "have it all."
Those books and articles have led to a response from men who are facing similar challenges, especially considering the dramatic changes in the role of fathers in our society during the last 20 — or even the last 10 — years.
As I pondered an article in the latter category, it got me thinking about my own role as a father to my four children.
I've written before about things I do to try to be a good dad, from helping with chores around the house (I like to think I'm the family laundry expert) to making time for one-on-one outings with the children (which has been increasingly difficult as they get older).
However, I don't often ask my children how they think I'm doing as a dad. So, with some trepidation, I decided to give it a try.
I didn't want to ask them that question directly, because I've got nice kids, and I figured they'd say positive things no matter what, just to make me feel good. (As I've mentioned before, my wife is an outstanding mother, and they're kind and generous like her.)
Instead, I decided to ask them, "What's the most important thing that dads do?" And I followed that up by asking, "What's the most important thing I do, as your dad?"
Their responses were educational.
My 7-year-old son showed his practical side when answering the more general question about the most important thing dads do: "They take care of their kids, like take them to school and get food from the store," he said.
And what about my actions, in particular? Again, he was all business. "Go to work and get money for our family," he said. "Get us to bed on time, because then we'll get some sleep and be ready for a new day."
Yes, on the latter response, he parroted my usual words back to me almost exactly.
Based on his response, I think I need to spend a little more "silly time" with my son. The things he mentioned are important, but it's also important for him to feel like we can spend time together having fun or learning new things.
My youngest daughter, who is 11 years old, said dads in general "help you and love you and care for you." And then she got a little more specific.
"They like to give you big bear hugs, and they like to watch TV with you," she said. "They pretty much just like to be with you, and when they're not at home, the kids feel bad because the dad isn't there. Another thing that is awesome about dads is that they can drive you to school, because they like to wake up early. ... Just kidding. They don't."
Hmmm, I think she might have been talking about me in that last comment.
My youngest girl also turned practical when talking about the most important things I do, at least at first.
"I think the most important thing you do is let us be able to stay in our house and buy us food," she told me. "And also when Mommy isn't home, you read stories ... and you make yummy mac and cheese. And you play with us, too, and you make up funny games."
Her response provided more evidence that the children are paying attention to my job and its role in meeting our family's needs. On the one hand, I'm glad they're aware of that connection. On the other, I wonder if maybe I focus on that too much when talking to them.
At least she noted that I sometimes make up "funny games." See, I'm not all business!
My 12-year-old daughter said dads, in general, are usually the ones who earn the money for a family, but quickly added that that's not always the case. She said dads are usually good at different things than moms, but "they're also really good at being kind to their family and keeping their family together."
As for me in particular, she said she had two answers about the most important things I do. First was to "go to work and get money for our family so that we can buy food and clothes and pay the mortgage and stuff."
Once again, all business. (I was impressed that she knew what a mortgage was. I'm sure she'll be all too familiar with the term in her own future.)
This particular daughter is a total sweetheart, and I melted a bit when she added her second item. "Sometimes, since we don't see you as much as we see Mommy, we want to spend time with you, and ... you're not grumpy when we ask you to do that, and that's nice."
"Really? I'm not grumpy?" I responded.
"Not usually," she giggled.
This may have been one of those times when she was following my wife's example and just saying something nice, but I appreciate her sentiments.
Finally, I talked to my 15-year-old daughter, wondering what the wise teenager in the family would have to say. She responded that, whether it's a mom or a dad, someone needs to work to provide for the family, and "that's pretty essential."
"Another thing is that dads provide a different perspective on things, usually," she said. "Sometimes they can be a little more mellow or a little more firm, depending on different things. And another part of it is all the dads that I know, ... they're usually funny, but you don't want to mess with them, because they also teach you discipline in a fun way, and that can help you get through life."
She loves to tease me and her grandfathers, even though she knows she'll be gently teased — and probably tickled — in return.
As for the most important thing I do as a dad, she was the only child not to mention my role as our family's primary breadwinner. "You're willing to play with us," she said.
I certainly am. The question is, how often do I translate that willingness into actually having fun, one-on-one or in a group, with my children?
I've decided I can do better. Even if I can't "have it all," I can try a little harder to be the father my children expect me to be. That's the kind of "work" I'll always enjoy.