I like to interview people about their professional accomplishments and then throw in questions about their families. These questions tend to be the highlight of every interview. For today's post, I had a chance to speak with historian David Ekbladh, a professor at Tufts University and an expert on U.S. foreign relations. David lives outside of Boston with his wife and two girls (3 and 7).
How did parenting impact you work?
In some obvious ways having children made work tough. Suddenly you’re juggling all these new and weighty responsibilities with the same amount of time. I slowed my own career and took part of a day during the work week to watch each of the girls when they were little. I had to pass on a lot of professional opportunities for the sake of this time with my girls.
What was frustrating is that I didn't get institutional support when I made this choice. I also felt pressure to not advertise that I was choosing to spend time with my kids. It did not surprise me that some older colleagues were not supportive, even judgmental. But what did surprise me was that not all of the people who wrinkled their noses at my choices were men.
However, it was worth it to have the priceless time to bond with my kids and to support my wife’s career. Being a father not only forces decisions about how to support your children but also ones that directly impact your partner.
What has surprised you most about fatherhood?
You join the largest club in the world. One of my favorite moments as a father was when we went to a nearby playground. Another dad came over and matter-of-factly said he had run out of diapers and his kid had just loaded their pants. I immediately pulled a diaper out of our satchel and gave it to him. Even though I’m not one, my guess is being a father is rather like being a smoker. When you’re in need, it’s ok to bum a cigarette off another. Same thing with diapers.
We know very little about the feelings and the needs of fathers - why is that?
From my experience dads don’t often get asked. After the girls were born, people would ask first about the baby and then how mom was doing. People rarely inquired about how it was going for me. If I was part of the discussion, most of the time it was to offer congratulations and not ask about how I was faring in a meaningful way.
I felt there were assumptions by others that, after the hubbub of birth, things would get back to normal for me. You will get to normal, but you’ll never return to the normal before kids. You are forever dealing with the arrival of these amazing creatures that transform your home life, work commitments, and relationship with your spouse. It would be nice if people were more open to understanding that and bring it into the normal conversations. Sometimes I felt like the only people who I could sort (heck, even mention) these issues out with were other new dads.