ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
For families with kids, pandemic life is still a hot mess. Many moms are just drowning, and dads' lives have also been upended. NPR's Andrea Hsu talked with a few dads who are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory.
ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: Will Station knew his kids were bummed about remote school this fall, so he decided to shake things up.
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HSU: He made his children go outside with their backpacks and come back in through their own front door.
WILL STATION: Jaden, I want to see you (ph) at first day of school.
HSU: But that's not all. Each kid had to complete some fancy footwork with their dad before he'd let them pass. Their new ritual made the local news - maybe because of those dance moves, but also because, well, here's this dad making the most of virtual school.
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STATION: Another student.
HSU: Will Station never could have imagined he'd be doing this. Before the pandemic, his wife was mostly the one looking after the kids' education.
STATION: I'm usually gone. You know, a couple of times a month, I'm on some type of travel.
HSU: Station is a vice president at Boeing. He travels up to 200,000 miles a year, and as a result...
STATION: Routinely, I wouldn't know my kids' teachers' names. You know, my wife would tell me, obviously. And if I had time, maybe I'd meet them, you know, once or twice a year.
HSU: This year, he hasn't taken any work trips since February. He's still working, but he's home a lot. Now he sees the teachers on a daily basis - on a screen, of course - and he sees them connecting with his kids.
STATION: I got to see my kids and see their world in a way that I've never experienced before.
HSU: It's overwhelming, he says, thinking about how much he's missed and how much this hard year has brought him. The pandemic is taking fathers on journeys they may never have chosen otherwise. For Nathan Bieck, losing his job has meant gaining time with his 9-year-old, Maddie.
NATHAN BIECK: I am teacher Dad. I get up every morning, and I wake her up, get her breakfast ready. We get her online.
HSU: And then he goes online himself to job search, which at 45, he says, can feel humiliating. Bieck had a great sales job with a big new convention hotel in downtown Kansas City. It was supposed to open in April.
BIECK: We had giant media events planned, people flying in from all over to cut ribbons, to do all this kind of thing.
HSU: Instead, Bieck was furloughed. Meanwhile, his wife was going bonkers at her job. She's in health care and was working 16-hour days dealing with issues around COVID payments and reimbursements. So on the home front, it was...
BIECK: A complete role reversal, from the laundry to the food. I'm a much better cook than I was six months ago.
HSU: And turns out he's a pretty good teacher, too. This year, Maddie's reading and math scores have gone up - way up - a real bright spot in a pretty disastrous year.
BIECK: When you sit at home all day and aren't bringing in a bunch of money for the family and what is your worth and, you know, you question yourself - I was like, this one I can say, hey, maybe this is working.
HSU: Now in the pandemic, more women than men have left the workforce. Take Zachary Austrew's family. His project management job was deemed essential, so his wife quit her job in marketing to care for the kids. Now he's still trying to come to terms with being the sole breadwinner for his family.
ZACHARY AUSTREW: We're not that family where I go to work and she stays home and cleans the house and I expect dinner when I return. That's just - that's not how we operate.
HSU: He actually felt guilty. For a while, he tried working at night, until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, so he could be with the kids during the day. His wife still freelance writes when she can. They need the little bit of income. And he's actually had new opportunities come up at work, things he might have gone for in normal times. Instead, he's playing it safe. Now is not the time to rock the boat.
AUSTREW: There are so many other stressors in our life right now. I don't want my career to be one.
HSU: He feels he owes that to his family, especially to his wife.
AUSTREW: She made the decision to put her career on hold for a little bit, and she didn't - we didn't do that lightly. And one day I hope to make it up to her.
HSU: After the pandemic, he says, he'll support her any way he can.
Andrea Hsu, NPR News.
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