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This man was just trying to be a good dad. Instead, he got fired

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Fathers who take on roles stereotypically reserved for women face the struggles working that mamas have for decades and a blow in the fight for equality

The honking of cars.

The sound is one of Chris Carlson’s most enduring memories of his daughter Summer, from the day he and his wife brought her home from the hospital. With their newborns in the backseat, Carlson rankled the drivers behind him by refusing to drive above 15 mph.

For the next few nights, Carlson slept on the floor by Summer’s crib.” She means the world to me ,” he said.” I didn’t want to leave her .”

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His employer, however, had other ideas.

Carlson took 30 days of unpaid leave from his job as a CVS store manager in Lowell, Massachusetts. That was unusual for a male manager, Carlson said. At CVS, the culture was one of” let’s see who can work the most hours and stay away from the family “.

Carlson’s was the kind of job that was 45 hours a week on paper and 75 in practice. The work could be unforgiving, but it played to Carlson’s enthusiasm and hyper-organized propensities. He worked on his days off, volunteered to develop new managers and earned raises and new titles. In 2011, his district named him manager of the year.

Chris
Chris Carlson of Nashua, New Hampshire, with his daughter, Summer Carlson at Boston Commons in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo: Rick Friedman for the Guardian

In his absence, he says his temporary replacement permitted the store to fall into disarray. Carlson claims he was penalized for the time it took to return the store up to standard. He began to feel as if they were constructing a case to make a move. In nine years of working for CVS, he said, he had never felt so scrutinized.

A series of meetings with Carlson’s bossabout his performance devolved into grinding lecturings on what a papa was supposed to be.

” He told me,’ Work is more important than family. Hands down ,'” Carlson said.” I disagreed with him and that’s when he started talking about what it takes to be a great manager. And told me that he has kids, and that he missed out on a lot of things. That I need to make a decision if I want to work in his district .”

Carlson recounted his tale in August, in the downtown Boston offices of his lawyer. Summer , now three years old and wearing a sunny yellow dress, sang under the conference table to an audience of stuffed animals before she surfaced to watch an episode of Peppa Pig. When she saw her father call, she squirmed.

” I knew something was gonna happen ,” he said.” I didn’t know they were gonna fire me .”

‘The tales you hear just transgress your heart’

There is no shortage of debate about working moms, the discrimination they face in the workplace, and the policies and cultural shifts that could occur to make our culture more accommodating. And for good reason.

At work, employees who become mothers experience a loss of wages and opportunities that isn’t justified by changes in their productivity. At home, moms in heterosexual households are still shouldering an unequal share of the childcare- 28 years after Arlie Hochschild first raised alarm about the ” second shift “.

But for all the obstacles working moms face, at the least their struggles are the subject of a brisk public debate. To the extent fathers figure in, it’s usually to ask why men who have children with women aren’t taking on more responsibility.

Carlson- and the growing brotherhood of men like him, who want to play a bigger role in their children’s lives- is part of the answer. Many fathers who take on roles stereotypically reserved for mothers find themselves fighting the same battles working moms have fought going back decades, including the legal ones: in December 2016, Carlson sued CVS, claiming it had contravened federal family leave law and demanding back pay, damages and attorneys’ fees.

CVS broadly denies Carlson’s claims. In an email, a spokesperson for the company wrote,” CVS Pharmacy offers generous leave of absence benefits that surpass those rights to leave that are provided under the FMLA. CVS policies also prohibit retaliation against employees who have taken leaves of absence, and those policies are in place to ensure that all of its employees are treated with respect and dignity. CVS previously denied Mr Carlson’s allegations in its answer to his legal grievance .”

Stories like his suggest something deeper is infecting the economy than skepticism about working mothers: a generalized hatred to offering anyone, male or female, the flexibility parenting takes.

” The narratives you hear only break your heart ,” said Cynthia Calvert, a labor attorney who works with the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California-Hastings.

Calvert and the founder of the center, Joan Williams, were some of the first to realize the scope of the challenge to working fathers, from a hotline they set up for working mothers.

Without ever meaning to, Calvert and Williams had soon become a clearinghouse for scores of narratives about employers who harass, demote, micromanage and even fire fathers for taking paternity leave or time off to care for sick children.

There were fathers of every racial and educational background, dads facing discrimination on the construction site and simply below the C-suite.

” What we were seeing is, men who had a traditional role- where they might take some time off to coach a sports team- were viewed as very good fathers, often get raises when they became fathers, or even pushed in the workplace to take on more responsibility, with the idea of being a better breadwinner .”< strong>

” But if a man stepped over that traditional line, became more involved in their elderly mothers’ lives, took time off to care for sick children, took time off to care for school-aged children, all of a sudden, everything changes .”

The fatherhood bonus

Chris
Chris Carlson sued CVS, claiming it had contravened family law. Photo: Rick Friedman for the Guardian

Researchers have a term for the first half of this equation: the fatherhood bonus. For most men, becoming a father outcomes in a wage increase, whereas for most women, becoming a mom results in a wage penalty- a penalty that compounds with each new child.

Employers reward fathers because they perceive fatherhood as a sign of a worker’s commitment, stability and “deservingness”, writes Michelle Budig, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst who has studied the trend. The fatherhood bonus is so pervasive, research suggests, that the wage gap between mothers and fathers has get wider even as the wage gap between men and women overall has gotten smaller.

But employers may not be rewarding fatherhood so much as rewarding a style of fatherhood that doesn’t require the employer to be flexible or accommodating.

” Suddenly, they’re not’ dependable’ any more, they’re not’ ambitious’ any more ,” said Calvert.” Male and female supervisors were trying to police the men into traditional gender roles. The pervasive assumption is that humen are free of family responsibilities. And that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will never get off that treadmill .”

All of this redounds severely on the fight for gender equality.

Millennial humen without children are more supportive than any previous generation of breaking down traditional gender roles- in the abstract. Once they have children, today’s young families tend to revert to old gender norms, with women bearing the brunt of childcare and men thinking that was best.

A 2015 study called ” Can We Finish the Revolution ?” blamed the shift in attitudes on very few American workplaces having family-friendly policies. In heterosexual couples who are faced with the prospect that parenthood would compromise one or both of their careers, girls took on a greater share of the caregiving.

Carlson and his wife wanted their roles to be more equal- they’re raising two girls, after all- after their lives as mothers got off to a harrowing start. Carlson’s first daughter was born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Although she’s healthy now, he was back to work before she had even been released from the Nicu.

Before Summer was born, they took out a loan against Carlson’s 401( k) to allow him to take six weeks of unpaid leave. Carlson planned his wife’s baby shower. He was up in the middle of the night for more of Summer’s feedings. He ran the household while his wife recovered.” I connected more ,” Carlson recalled.

The cost was the faith of his employers.When his boss learned Carlson was leaving for several weeks, he asked a gathering of store managers to guess who was going on “maternity” leave.” Look around, it’s the one that’s turning bright red ,” he brayed.” It’s Chris !”

His boss mock-introduced Carlson to his faculty as a former stay-at-home papa when Carlson returned.” I made the mistake of saying I miss my baby ,” Carlson said, and his boss joked that Carlson had postpartum depression.

Those cultural expectations are reflected in how severely fathers have fared in the legal system. For working moms, an extensive body of case law prevents employers from penalise them based on the expectation that becoming a mother reduces productivity.

The same is not true for working fathers. Courts generally don’t take men seriously who claim they were fired because they didn’t act like stereotypical men. Some of the only working fathers who have won major discrimination lawsuits were caretakers-of-last-resort – that is, their wives has been killed or catastrophically injured. For fathers in more ordinary situations, the law protects them merely in theory.

Carlson, though, caught a breaking. This fall , CVS offered to settle his claims, which he did, for an undisclosed quantity. The CVS spokesperson stressed that neither he nor CVS admitted to wrongdoing.

Carlson still hasn’t recovered the career he built over more than a decade. When we met in August, he was working as an assistant at Toys R Us and trying to put his newly acquired real estate license to work.

” It’s the secret out there ,” Carlson reflected.” Men feel embarrassed to talk about it. And you won’t find a lot of men who will want to talk about it because the culture hammered them down so much .”

” You want to move on from it, but you just can’t move on from it ,” he said.” I second-guess myself. Should I have even gone on leave? Because none of this would’ve happened if I didn’t. It put me in a situation of my family or work. I was being forced to make a decision, and I’m going to choose family every time .”

” Right, bumpus ?” Carlson looked down at Summer, who was silent on his lap. Then he looked up.

” Family is more important to me than anything in the world ,” he continued. “Right?”

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Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ us-news/ 2017/ dec/ 06/ fired-for-taking-paternity-leave-dads-fighting-gender-roles-face-uphill-battle

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