book cover 3 sectionThe Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home ( is the first book of its kind- advice and encouragement for men who aspire to career success and being highly-involved loving dads. I recently had a chance to catch up with and interview the author, Scott Behson, PhD., so here are 10 questions with Dr. Behson:

1. In introducing Part 3 of your book, you give two strikingly different examples of soon-to-be dads from professional sports, each of whom made opposite choices regarding whether or not to be present for their child’s birth, but then you went on to say that they both made the right decision. Can you elaborate a little more on the idea of collaboration between parents and making the “right” decisions for their families, as well as why it is so important for us, on the outside, not to judge others for their decisions?

To quickly recap, pro golfer Hunter Mahan left a $1M tournament he was leading as soon as he heard his wife went into early labor. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco got the call that his wife was going into early labor as he was warming up for a game. He talked to his wife, but decided to play and join her afterwards.
As an advocate for fathers, I had praised Mahan for his decision, and had quickly written a judgmental draft of a blog post when I heard about Flacco. But I’m glad I waited and reconsidered before posting. Flacco clearly had conversations with his wife beforehand, and they had crafted a plan that was right for his family. He was at the hospital less than 30 minutes after the game and by all accounts is a good dad. So, I felt churlish about having been initially disappointed. In fact, these two athletes helped me come up with some personal rules for dealing with other dads:
1. I will never know the whole story from the outside, so I will not criticize dads on their parenting or work-family decisions, unless they do something particularly egregious or harmful. (This goes double for dads who don’t have the financial security or work flexibility that some lucky dads have)
2. When a dad is trying his best, I will support him.
3. If I can help a fellow dad, I will.
After all, we’re all in this together and should be supportive of dads, even if they choose differently than we would.

2. In Chapter 9, I ran across a question that immediately stopped me from reading on: “In my line of work, I ask a lot of dads how they want their kids to look back on their childhoods with them. How do they want to be remembered?” Some curmudgeonly people might suggest that focusing on making memories with our children serves no real practical purpose and that it is overly sentimental. How would you address fathers who don’t prioritize the making of memories with their children?

Sometimes we need a reminder that the whole point of family time is to enjoy time with those we love. Parenting can be hard work (and this hard work is, indeed, often the most important), but that can’t be all it is. Having kids should also be a lot of fun. So, when you have family time, don’t waste it. Go camping, make art, play a sport, dance like an idiot, go to the zoo, take a vacation. Your kids won’t remember how you taught them to brush their teeth, but they will remember the times you cooked with them or took them swimming. Make those memories.

3. With so many studies suggesting that, not only does more time spent with kids have positive benefits, but that purely present time, or what you might call “uncontaminated time” has even greater benefits to child development, but if you had to wager a guess or a theory as to why, what would you say?

One dad I interviewed for the book told the story about how his 4 year old daughter was sitting on his lap and asked him a question, but he didn’t even hear her because he was texting. To him, this served as a wake-up call to be more mindful and present.

Again, I think the point of family time, and why it benefits parents and kids, is that time together communicates how important these people are to you. The problem with technology and other distractions are that they can keep us from being mentally present when we are physically with our families. Being there, but not being there means that neither you nor your family get the benefits of being together. Even worse, we send a signal that work or other distractions come before paying attention to family. None of us would intentionally send that message; we need to stop doing so unintentionally.

4. You make a strong case for carving out regularly scheduled unstructured time to be fully present with our kids (a case I wholeheartedly support), but do you have any suggestions on how to achieve that sense of true presence, either leading up to that carved-out time, or shortly after it begins?

Intentional choices become habits. I think that the way to start is to consistently cordon off time for family. Once you do so, the time you spend can become more relaxed and leave more room for true presence and for more spontaneity. It’s a little like seeding a garden- good planning and some initial hard work can yield results for a long time.
As an example, one dad in the book who worked at a high-octane employer felt that he was missing too much with his little girl and bravely carved out “daddy-daughter Wednesdays” in which he spent an uninterrupted 7am-12 noon with his daughter every week and went into work after lunch. He admitted that it took him a while to get in the rhythm, but once they did it became their favorite time of the week, and something they now look back on fondly.

5. Regarding technological distractions, of which I know I am certainly guilty (despite writing at great length about the need to control), Chapter 9 offers great ideas for how to break these addictions, even if only temporarily, such as “phone stacking” or “no screen hours” in the evening. If we have certain members of our family who seem to struggle with technological addictions, how would you suggest bringing it to their attention without starting a fight and making the situation worse?

The thing I like about “phone stacking” and “no screen hours” is that it applies to everyone in the household, so no one person feels singled out. No need to get defensive. I found that in my own life, “no screen hours” really helped with my son’s emerging iPad addiction.
To get him off the iPad, I used to tease him that he was like Gollum with the One Ring, and he hated it – that tactic really backfired. But once it became a whole-family rule, he’s far more compliant. Also, because it applies to everyone, it means I’m also not on a screen, so we have less excuse not to build Legos or throw the ball around together.

6. Chapter 10 beautifully calls our attention to the importance of making our time spent with our children memorable. I’ve often found that the most memorable moments are those that ignite spontaneously – completely unplanned, random, unusual, and surprisingly memorable moments. What do you think the connection is between spontaneity and memorable moments?

I’m not sure why spontaneity is so much better for making memories, but I think you are right. Spontaneity and creativity only emerge when one is in a psychologically safe and relaxed mental state. This is why consistently making time for unstructured family time is so important.
For example, for the past 5 years, my son and I have gone to this big Lego event that, for one weekend a year, takes over a historic property not far from our house. Huge awesome builds by professionals, games, discounts, ice cream and the whole works. The one year we remember way more than the others is the year when we parked a little bit away and had to walk across a field to get to the building. Out of nowhere the skies opened up in a torrential monsoon-like storm. I hoisted him up and then ran through the mud and rain, with both of us laughing all the way. This is a story my son always brings up. The event was planned- the rain was not. But because we had built a good, fun-filled relationship, we were able to make a muddy slog awesome.

7. I was struck by a line I found in Chapter 10: “The best gift you can give your kids is your consistent presence.” Why consistency? What is the critical link you find between being consistent, yet also being unstructured at the same time?

As in some earlier questions, intentional choices become habits. If you keep feeding your relationship with your kids with consistent quality time and attention, you create the conditions for spontaneity and making memories.
It’s a little like practicing tennis. Working with a coach on hitting 50 forehands down the line makes you far more able to improvise during subsequent tennis matches. I think the same is true for parenting. Time on task is so important.

8. There’s a great, though tear-wrenching book, called, “Let Me Hold You Longer,” by Karen Kingsbury, where she insists in emotional fashion that, as parents, we should appreciate our children’s lasts, rather than focusing so much on their firsts. In other words, as you stated in Chapter 10, “I kick myself for not fully appreciating the stories [read at bedtime] at the time.” Why do you think we place so much fuss on the firsts, when it is the present moment that must be appreciated, especially since we do not know if/when that will be the last time we experience that activity?

Well, firsts are exciting and should hold a special place. But we need to remember that our infants become toddlers, who become pre-schoolers, who become kids, who become adolescents, who become *gasp* teenagers, who become adults. As Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If we don’t slow down every once in a while, we can miss it.” My advice- try to be present at every age. Take lots of pictures. And keep talking about things you’ve enjoyed with your kids. It keeps those memories alive.

9. Speaking of rituals, do you think we can consciously create our father-child rituals, or do they grow more organically out of a suddenly discovered common interest?

As in some earlier questions, intentional choices become habits. If you keep feeding your relationship with your kids with consistent quality time and attention, you create the conditions for spontaneity and making memories.

10. Last question: You obviously wrote this book from a place of love for your family. I know this because it comes through loud and clear, leaping out from each and every page. Looking back on the experience of writing it, what moment or set of moments from writing this book inspired you most?

Thank you, I’m glad you felt the love! Aside from my family, part of what inspired me during the writing of this book was talking to dozens of dads with different work and family situations, and seeing that we all share the challenge of succeeding in our careers while being involved fathers. Everyone’s details differed, but the central goal was the same. This made me feel very connected with my fellow dads.
But my book isn’t just about family or about being mindful or making memories. The book is designed to provide encouragement, relatable stories and practical advice for dads both at work and at home so they can succeed in their careers and still have the time to be the loving involved dads we all want to be. There are sections about navigating the workplace, negotiating for more work flexibility, financial planning and reassessing career paths, too.
For lots of dads, work and family feels like an impossible tug-of-war. But it doesn’t have to be. If we set priorities, value our time, and make decisions that are right for us and our families, we can be very successful in both major roles.