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Working fathers' needs overlooked, experts say

Preoccupied with the problems spawned by millions of mothers entering the workplace, America has overlooked the needs of working fathers, witnesses told a congressional committee Tuesday. One result has been emotional turmoil for moms, dads and, most of all, children, experts warned at a hearing on "Babies and Briefcases: Creating a Family-Friendly Workplace for Fathers."

"We still have a cultural climate that says men don't take paternity leave and fathers don't leave work for trips to the pediatrician or carpools," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder, chair of the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families. "We want to know . . . what we can do to change that corporate culture."

Citing 1990 Bureau of Labor statistics, the committee found that 24.4-million working fathers _ 36 percent of all males in the work force _ had children under age 18. Two-thirds of these working fathers had wives in the labor force. Just over a million families were maintained by single fathers.

Working fathers are an "invisible dilemma" for corporate America, testified James Levine, director of The Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute, a research organization in New York.

"We do not even have a category in our language yet to think about "working fathers' as a group with distinct needs," Levine said. But increasingly, men are caught between their commitments to family and employer.

Social scientists told the panel that a father's commitment to his children has a huge impact on how they grow up.

However, many corporations still view commitment to fatherhood as a lack of commitment to the job, said Levine.

Until fatherhood is valued more by bosses, "we will perpetuate the current pattern in which men are handicapped by feeling they can't risk more involvement in family life and women are doubly handicapped _ feeling they have to "do it all' and being taken less seriously because of their family responsibilities," he warned.

If a company's culture is truly family-friendly, the "workplace flexibility" that has helped many working mothers can be extended to help working fathers, said Lynn O'Rourke Hayes, co-author of The Best Jobs of America for Parents.

Options that have proven popular with fathers include compressed work weeks, where the employee puts in 40 hours in fewer than five days, and flex time, varying the starting and quitting time of a standard eight-hour day.