Shift Change

FRAMINGHAM (03/27/2000) - A group of friends share a pot of coffee and talk about trying to balance work and family. Skipping a daughter's basketball game to get a server up and running, dialing in from home after a 10-hour day or getting to work a half hour later than everyone else so they can drop their kids off at school.

What may be surprising is that this isn't a group of working moms. It's a group of working dads dealing with the stresses, guilt and frustrations of juggling family life with the explosive amount of hours that IT professionals are expected to put in every week.

"In IS, what used to be an extraordinary amount of hours is now a normal workweek," says Isaac Applbaum, CEO of Concorde Solutions, the IT division of Bank of America Corp. in Concord, California. "Now there are few days that I work less than 12 hours," says the married father of three.

"I love what I do. I love my family. I'm missing some of the most important years of their lives. Sometimes I feel guilty no matter what I'm doing," he says.

Industry watchers say Applbaum is part of a rising tide of fathers who are increasingly involved in what were once considered solely women's issues - juggling the opportunities and responsibilities of work and family. Changes in society, the work force and the home have men taking on more parental responsibility without reducing their roles in the workplace.

"You saw everything start to change in the '60s," says H. Michael Boyd, an analyst at market research firm IDC in Framingham, Mass. "People take it for granted now that men will be involved in their children's lives."

And those same analysts say the frustrations are twofold for many fathers in the high-tech industry, in which 60- to 80-hour workweeks are often the norm.

"You don't know when something is going to act up," says Bill Bolt, vice president of IS for the Phoenix Suns Ltd. Partnership and the Arizona Diamondbacks. "You think you're getting off at 5 p.m., and then you find you have a server down or Internet problems. It could be your son's birthday, but that server is down and you've got to get it up. There are a lot of broken promises in this industry."

Applbaum and some of his male friends get together for breakfast once a month - and they often talk about those broken promises, missed school performances and how to keep a marriage happy when they're traveling half the week. Recently, the conversation shifted to the best time of the day to be home. "Is dinner the key time? Is bedtime the key time? And how do you balance that with spending time with your wife?" Applbaum asks.

Russ Schadd, a father of two and a network specialist for Wallace Computer Services in Lisle, Ill., says the answer lies in the balancing act.

"I have to weigh the magnitude of what's going on at work and what's going on at home," says Schadd, who was an assistant Scout leader for five years and has coached his son's hockey team for the 11 years he's been with Wallace. "The kids need it. It's a dedication thing - getting out of work and driving like a maniac home and then driving like a maniac to the ice rink. But if something critical is going on at work, the family suffers," Schadd adds. "Then I feel guilty. Sometimes I feel guilty if I'm home and guilty if I'm at work."

Making it work often comes down to the manager. "You've got to be willing to make trade-offs," Bolt says. "You try to give people extra time. If there's a school play in the afternoon, if you can afford it, let them go."

IDC's Boyd says some workers encounter problems if they have an older male manager who might not understand that an employee needs to leave work.

"Some of the older generation still have lingering macho ideas about the men being the bread winner and letting the women worry about the kids," Boyd says.

"But with low unemployment and the shortage of IS workers, if an employer says that's not the corporate thing to do, the worker is going to say, 'See ya,' because there are a lot of jobs out there."

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