Dads Who Downshift

by Pamela Kruger

Dads Who Downshift

In the fall of 1996, Jonathan Hunter felt his life unraveling. Working 60 to 70 hours a week as a hotel manager, he rarely saw his daughters, ages 1 and 4. He and his wife  — also working full-time as a market research analyst  — brought up the topic of divorce for the first time. "We had these yelling fights," says Hunter, of Aliso Viejo, CA. "We were both frazzled."

Within a month, Hunter, now 35, quit his job to become a bell captain, a position requiring only a 40-hour workweek. Although he earns about $40,000 a year  — roughly $10,000 more than before  — it isn’t a career-track position and his earning potential is limited. "I’ve closed doors," says Hunter. "But my future is with my family."

Call it the daddy track. Just as some mothers choose to slow down their career to spend more time with their family, a growing number of fathers are doing the same. A recent Cornell University study of 117 men and women in two-career marriages found that roughly one out of five dads had downshifted, either by changing jobs or working alternative schedules, often by switching to telecommuting.

In another study this year, 802 members of dual-earner couples were questioned by Catalyst, a New York City-based nonprofit group studying working women’s issues. Nearly two out of three men said they would like the option of "customizing" their career path by easing the pace when family responsibilities are most pressing, then gearing up later on.

Although most dads on a slower track say they accept the trade-offs that usually come with it  — lower pay and rank and fewer promotions  — some admit to regrets. "I had wanted to go all the way to the top of management, and now I believe I’ve forfeited that opportunity," says Hunter, who plans to go back to school to become a computer programmer when his younger child reaches kindergarten.

But while some dads see downshifting as temporary  — until their kids are older or their wives decide they want to slow down  — others say they have found a new way of life and intend to stick with it.