Is your business father-friendly?
This time of year is filled with images of the importance of fatherhood. There is the kindly old visage of Father Christmas, followed closely by Father Time, leading us into the new year. And, of course, there is the never-ending telling of the kind, responsible fathering of Bob Cratchit as he struggles to find work and life balance with an ailing son named Tiny Tim, and his impoverished family.Sadly, however, these images of kindly, caring and devoted fatherhood seem to be fading in our current culture. One only has to tune into the latest commercials or sitcoms to see bumbling, selfish, uncaring and disconnected fathers. Take "Two and a Half Men," for example, a long-running and hugely popular show featuring a bumbling goofball chiropractor raising his son in his alcoholic and philandering brother's house. To the show's "Alan," fatherhood often appears to be a second-thought activity to be squeezed in between chasing women and going on benders.This perception of fathers as second-class family members is bolstered by some recent research. This month, the National Fatherhood Initiative (fatherhood.org) has released an interesting research report entitled "Mama Says: A National Survey of Mothers' Attitudes on Fathering." Sadly, this research confirms the idea that the perception of fathers and fatherhood itself may be in serious trouble.The researchers at the University of Texas found that 93 percent of the 1,533 mothers surveyed across the nation felt that there is a father-absence crisis in the United States today. More alarming: a resounding majority of the mothers (both married and unmarried) believe that mothers or other males can adequately substitute for absent or uninvolved fathers.In other words, fathers are disposable.Yes, divorce happens, and there are many fathers in New Hampshire and across the nation who haven't done an adequate job of fatherhood, haven't taken their responsibilities seriously and haven't represented fathers well. However, in this study it turns out that the mothers' appraisals of the performance of fathers differed greatly according to whether or not the mother was married to or lived with the father.Providing flexibilityNow this is not ground-shattering news, but it does provide strong evidence that when mothers and fathers live together, fathering is strengthened. It also leads us to remember that stable, supportive and realistic mother and father relationships are extremely important for good fathering and responsible fatherhood.The social responsibility of any great employer, in my opinion, is to insure that the men and women who work for that employer can lead rich, meaningful lives both at work and outside of work. The evidence is clear that our most productive employees are those that have healthy family relationships. However, in the "Mama Says" study, mothers once again pointed to "work responsibilities" to be the greatest obstacle to good fathering.How strong are the family relationships of the employees who work around you? Do you even know? How much is your co-worker's job contributing to his inability to be a good father or maintain his marriage? Do we really understand that when relationships crumble or couples divorce their abilities to produce at work are severely affected? Is your workplace environment toxic to fatherhood?With a new year looming and resolutions being made, this might be a good time to spend a few minutes assessing the father-friendliness of your shop. Do the men who work for you have the flexibility they need to maintain good family relationships? Or, like Scrooge, are your company's quotas more important than fatherhood? For the sake of the season and a future generation of workers, I hope not. Dr. Malcolm Smith is family life and family policy specialist with UNH Cooperative Extension and teaches in the University of New Hampshire Family Studies Program. He can be reached at 603-862-7008 or firstname.lastname@example.org.