Viewpoint: Work and Family in the 1970s

In the early 1970s, I was working in the American Friends Service Committee’s Chicago office as peace education secretary when I learned that my wife, Nancy, and I were about to have a baby.

The Personnel Committee (clerked by the late George Watson) met with us to hear our suggestion that Nancy and I “split the job.” We would each serve two days a week in the office; on the fifth day we would bring in our new baby. The committee was fully supportive and approved our realignment of the position. We were officially “Co-Secretaries for Peace and War Issues.” They also approved a month of paternity leave for me.

The benefit to AFSC was immediate, because Nancy had the skills and determination for certain kinds of work that I either had been avoiding or wasn’t good at, particularly relating to our oversight committee and arranging conferences and public speaking. I was able to give more attention to my passion: working with conscientious objectors and resisters in and out of the military.

But the biggest benefit in my eyes was that I got to be a daddy as much as Nancy could be a mom. Up until then, the traditional idea of fatherhood was that the main responsibility after birth was to bring in income and enforce discipline. Equal parenthood was a refreshingly (and to some, threateningly) new idea in the 1970s. George Watson said that he was eager to move ahead on this model—sharing both the paid work and the parenting—because he and his wife, Elizabeth, had wanted this kind of arrangement in the mid-1940s. Unfortunately, Friends weren’t ready for it at that time.

This is all one more example of Quakers being less rigid and more open on things having to do with gender (or in the language we used at the time, “sex-role stereotypes”). AFSC’s flexibility in the 1970s allowed me to launch one of the biggest and most satisfying adventures of my life: enthusiastically being a dad.

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