It’s not clear to me why the industry term for the impossibly-qualified candidate of a hiring manager’s dream is a ‘unicorn.’ The myth about unicorns is not that they’re hard to find, but that they’re hard to tame. There are also a number of other lame idioms that convey the same idea: needle in a hay stack and diamond in the rough, for two easy examples. Even if we’re determined to use a mythical creature with a reputation for being difficult to find and capture as our image, then a leprechaun seems to me to be the more appropriate choice.
Anyways, I write all this as a prelude to the admission that I am, in fact, a unicorn/leprechaun/diamond-needle-in-the-rough-hay. Unfortunately I’m not boasting that I’m the kind of unicorn who’s qualified for a high-paying job with specific skill requirements. I’m a unicorn in the sense that I’m a demographic anomaly: At 24, I was married about 5 years before the median age of first marriage in my state, and at 25 I’ll be welcoming my first child about 2 years earlier than the national median age.*
For a good number of friends, colleagues, casual acquaintances, and random passers-by, my impending fatherhood has been a cause for alarm. Aside from my relative youth and my obvious ignorance of infants and children, most of these people have expressed concerns that my wife and I will be unable to balance the demands, in terms of both time and money, of my work and her school with the reportedly unceasing demands of an infant, all while we live in an expensive city a couple thousand miles away from the help of family.
Many of these worried people, all of them meaning well, have told me that they believe some third party must be compelled to help me and my wife. That might be my employer, who some people believe should be required to pay for some kind of extended paternity leave or required to give me some sort of flexible schedule. Other friends have suggested that my wife’s graduate program ought to relax requirements for her to attend class, and still others have suggested that some sort of local, “free” childcare program would be a great break for young parents like us.
These all sound like wonderful solutions for me, but every time I’ve found myself eagerly nodding along while my interlocutor recites a list of free benefits they believe should be part of a packaged deal arriving with my son, I realize that this is what’s meant by the phrase “Having your cake and eating it, too.” I chose to get married and have a baby younger than most my peers, chose to live in Boston while my wife goes to school, and chose the industry I work in. The consequence of those choices is that I won’t be able to pursue my career in the same way that childless 25 year-old bachelors living in their hometowns pursue theirs.
So, following the advice of the few people who recommended that we not wait for the universe and state employment law to spontaneously organize themselves around our desire start a family, my wife and I decided it was best to talk to our employers well ahead of our son’s birth in order to hammer out the missing “What if I have a baby?” clause in our employment agreements. So far we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the results of our conversations about time off in the immediate aftermath of our son’s birth, possibilities for working flexible hours, and options for balancing time at work with the cost of daycare. It turns out that our employers (who were once babies themselves) are not Gordon Gekko figures who have no interest in their employee’s happiness and families.
Waiting for the birth of my son and having these discussions with my employer has led me to two conclusions. First, instead of wishing for someone to implement grand schemes and mandates for complicated and personal things like parental leave and childcare, perhaps it’s best to encourage frank discussions between the people (employers and employees) most closely effected and most capable of deciding what kinds of privileges and sacrifices are reasonable, and at what cost. Second, perhaps more people should consider having kids at a younger age. If nobody else does this, I’m going to be a lot younger than the other Little League coaches.
*To my deep shame, my lack of skill with Google dot com meant I couldn’t find state-by-state data for the median age of entry into fatherhood. Given that the age of first marriage for men in Massachusetts was higher than any other state, and lower only than the District of Columbia, I feel confident in my assumption that the average age for first time fathers is also higher in my state, and local difference is greater than the 2 year difference in the national metric. This footnote is to address the questions of our many, many readers in Utah (average age of first marriage: 23.8) who don’t see anything anomalous in my age. I’m what passes for a unicorn in Massachusetts.
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