Remote work has helped dads 'prioritize family' and they don't plan to give that up

For some Long Island fathers, the pandemic has a silver lining.

Working from home has allowed them to spend more time with their children and experience the joys of fatherhood not just on weekends but during the work week.

And in their desire to maintain the strong bonds they cultivated with their kids during the pandemic, they have continued to work remotely or found ways to limit their hours away from them.

At the root of these dads’ new pandemic-influenced work habits is their determination to have it all — a work-life balance that allows them to do their jobs and still be with their children as much as possible during the workday, for school drop-offs and pick-ups, mealtimes, playtimes and bedtimes. That desire has translated into everything from fathers tweaking job schedules to opening businesses close to home.

Working remotely during the pandemic “provided an opportunity to reassess routines, including work and meetings, and to pause to have lunch with the kids and work on art projects,” said Chris Storm, 42, married and the father of two daughters, Marisol, 8 and Charlotte, 11.

Chris Storm and his daughters Marisol, 8, center, and Charlotte, 11, left, on the grounds of Adelphi University, where he is provost. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

When Storm was promoted from senior associate provost to provost of Garden City-headquartered Adelphi University in July 2020, he knew that the elevated position brought with it longer workdays, including a calendar of evening work events. Storm was so keen to maintain his work-life balance that he and his family relocated from Huntington to Garden City.

His commute now is a five-minute walk, as compared to his former 50- to 55-minute drive each way, which could grow due to traffic accidents or road closures.

'Even though I work longer hours, I’m usually home with the kids for dinner and evening activities ... helping with homework or taking the dog for a walk with them.'

-Chris Storm, father of two and provost of Adelphi University

Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

“Even though I work longer hours, I’m usually home with the kids for dinner and evening activities – whether helping with homework or taking the dog for a walk with them,” Storm said. “I'm very fulfilled being with my daughters and fortunate being able to go from work to home at the drop of a hat.”

In many instances, Long Island dads mirror a nationwide pandemic-influenced development: Fathers have stepped up their involvement in their children’s lives.

According to a new study of U.S. parents’ divisions of labor during COVID-19, because the pandemic drove people to work from home, many fathers not only increased their participation in child care but have maintained their new level of caregiving.

The study, which surveyed 1,200 parents between April 2020 and November 2021, found that “as fathers are more exposed to child care and more involved in caregiving, they are more likely to change their behavior to continue to be involved,” said Richard Petts, a principal investigator of the study and a sociology professor at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

“Being a more involved father during lockdowns and remote learning has motivated some dads to want to remain more engaged as society has returned to ‘normal,’” Petts said, adding, “flexible work is one way to do that.”

Licensed clinical social worker Justin Lioi said he's seen that pattern emerge in some of his clients. Lioi, whose Brooklyn-based private practice focuses on counseling men, especially fathers, said in the beginning of the pandemic some male clients had lost their jobs and, with their partner continuing to work full-time, they were “thrust into a [child care] role they didn’t exactly want.”  Since then, they have not only adapted to their unanticipated circumstances but have relished them.

“They are seeing the first steps that they would have missed or just heard about if they came home after six,” he said.

Working remotely has spurred other changes, too.

During zoom calls, there’s a “shared humanity” in hearing young voices in the background, Lioi said. “And people are not afraid to talk about that.”

'It's OK to be human'

Marcus Damas with his kids Maddi, 4, Melrose, 1, and Max, 7, on Monday in West Bay Shore. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Married and the father of a son, Max, 7, and two daughters, Maddi, 4, and Melrose, 16 months, Marcus Damas has been operating his marketing agency from his West Bay Shore home since the pandemic’s start – and he makes no apologies for his children’s presence.

During phone calls and Zooms, Damas said, he is “never shy” about acknowledging the voices of his children in the background or excusing himself from the conversation to pour a bowl of cereal for one of them.

Rather than seeing such distractions as challenges, clients “see exactly who they are dealing with, and people appreciate the perspective and approach I take in prioritizing my family,” said Damas, founder and CEO of Fueled by Culture, a 6-year-old company that creates content and events and taps celebrities to support clients’ brands. “It’s OK to be human.”

No longer leasing a 5,200- square-foot midtown Manhattan office, which featured koi fish, a podcast studio and an event space that accommodated as many as 300 people, Damas, whose client roster includes JP Morgan Chase, HBO, Moet Hennessey and Forbes, now hosts clients at his home’s fully-stocked bar and wine-tasting room. His company’s five full-time and five part-time employees also work from their homes.

'When I was going to the city every day, it was a luxury to be able to see my kids in the morning or catch them before they went to bed.'

-Marcus Damas, father of three and founder and CEO of Fueled by Culture

Credit: Newsday/ Alejandra Villa Loarca

“We’re totally dedicated to remote working,” said Damas, who played professional basketball in Sweden before founding the business. “In the past, when I was going to the city every day, it was a luxury to be able to see my kids in the morning or catch them before they went to bed. I only got a chance to spend time with them on weekends.

“Fast-forward, I can take the kids to school, pick them up, read a bedtime story and have a 6:30 family dinner together.”

Courtesy of working from home, Damas is also able to take time during the workday to play tennis with Maddi and serve as his son’s basketball trainer, which led to Max winning championships twice this year while playing in a league with kids three and four years older.

“In the past, when it was more normal to be in the office, I would dedicate myself to work, and now I’m able to prioritize family,” Damas said. “It has really helped me put things in perspective as a man and family man.”

'My reason for everything'

Richard McWilliams, owner of Blast from the Past, a collectibles and comic book store in Bay Shore, shows his 3-year-old son, Leonardo, around the store. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

As a district manager for a company that works for Home Depot in assembling everything from outdoor furniture to snowblowers, as well as setting up its stores' interiors, Richard McWilliams had supervised a crew of more than 100 workers. He had also endured a hectic work schedule, including traveling out of state for as much as two months at a time.

“I lived in hotels all over the place,” said McWilliams, 35, who lives in Islip with his wife, Christina, 34, and son, Leonardo, 3.  “It was a very stressful time in my life, but it helped me buy a house before Leonardo was born.”

Although his son’s birth led him to cut down on his business travel to “a few weeks at a time,” McWilliams was pained to miss Leonardo’s early milestones, including his first steps without falling.

On the upside, traveling gave McWilliams the opportunity to patronize flea markets and antique shops to indulge his penchant for collecting vintage and collectible items.

As a result, McWilliams already possessed start-up inventory when he opened his own vintage and collectibles store in December 2020. Three months later, he quit the assembly firm. 

A five-minute drive from his home, his Bay Shore shop, Blast from the Past,  sells everything from retro video games and systems, including Atari and Nintendo, to vintage toys, such as Ninja Turtles, Barbies and GI Joes. 

'He utilizes the shop as his own toy store.'

-Richard McWilliams, father and owner of Blast from the Past

Credit: Newsday/ John Paraskevas

On weekdays before dinner, Christina and Leonardo visit the shop, where the toddler generally races to climb on a stool to play an arcade game, with dad beside him.  “He utilizes the shop as his own toy store,” McWilliams said.

With the store open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, McWilliams spends mornings and evenings with his young son, as well as takes him to day care.

“I am five minutes away from Leonardo at all times,” McWilliams said. “Leonardo is my reason for everything.”

'Not just words but actions'

David Garrison with his daughter Jordyn, 2, in Amityville. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

For some dads, giving their children as much of their time as possible not only reminds them of their parents' or their own missteps; it makes them determined not to repeat them.

David Garrison’s parents worked two jobs to give him “a great life,” said the married Amityville resident and father of Jordyn, 2, born during the pandemic. “But I didn’t see them until 9:30 p.m. much of my life.”

Two months ago, Garrison, 31, an insurance underwriter, returned to his firm’s Manhattan office one day a week. But intent on maintaining his close relationship with his daughter, he has tweaked his remote work schedule as much as his job responsibilities allow, to feed Jordyn in the morning and the afternoon and spend his lunch break with her watching “random dinosaur documentaries and Schoolhouse Rock” or driving to a nearby beach.

'Working from home has allowed me to convey my love not just in words but actions.'

 -David Garrison, father and insurance underwriter

Credit: Newsday/ Alejandra Villa Loarca

“Working from home has allowed me to convey my love not just in words but actions,” Garrison said.

'Time ... is the most important thing'

John Franco with his son Alejandro Franco-Zapata in front of their Brentwood home on Monday. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

For his part, John Franco, 57, looks back at his shared times with his four older children, now ranging in age from 26 to 35, and has regrets. He wishes he had given them as much time as he now spends with his youngest son, Alejandro Franco-Zapata, 9.

While working remotely from his Brentwood home during the lockdown, Franco, a community relations specialist for Fidelis Care, said he did more than develop a strong bond with Alejandro.

'Now, I realize that I didn’t give enough time to my other kids. I definitely don’t want to make the same mistake.'

-John Franco, father of five and a community relations specialist for Fidelis Care

Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

He learned an important lesson: “Time is one of the most important things to give our kids,” Franco said.  “Now, I realize that I didn’t give enough time to my other kids. I definitely don’t want to make the same mistake.”

Since March, Franco has returned to working in Fidelis Care’s Bay Shore office, but he starts his workday at 7:30 a.m. after bringing Alejandro to the school bus stop, and when the bus returns at 3:30 p.m., he is usually free to pick up his son and spend the rest of the day with him, whether helping with homework, riding bikes together or taking Alejandro to a karate class.

“Now, I spend the majority of my time with Alejandro,” Franco said.