Many fathers and political analysts support House Speaker Paul Ryan’s desire to stop being just a ‘weekend dad,’ but question the political timing of his retirement.
Paul Ryan is playing the family card.
The House Speaker rocked Washington on Wednesday by announcing he would retire from Congress at the end of the 2018 term to focus on his family.
“This is my 20th year in Congress. My kids weren’t even born when I was first elected. Our oldest was 13 years old when I became Speaker,” said the 48-year-old Wisconsin Republican, noting that his own father died when he was 16.
“Now all three of our kids are teenagers, and one thing I’ve learned about teenagers is their idea of an ideal weekend is not necessarily to spend all of their time with their parents. What I realize is if I am here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad,” he added. “I just can’t let that happen. So I will be setting new priorities in my life.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan says his family is the top reason he isn't seeking reelection: "If I am here for one more term my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad. I just can't let that happen. So I will be setting new priorities in my life." https://t.co/gIpaem27Sj pic.twitter.com/PjtpAyrlDu
— CNN (@CNN) April 11, 2018
Parents such as City Dads Group founder Lance Somerfeld praised Ryan for being man enough to say that he wants to spend more time with his kids. After all, 63% of fathers say they spend too little time with their children, according to Pew Research, and 62% blame work obligations for missing this family time.
“We live in a society where more men who are in powerful positions — politics, sports or business — need to be more transparent and vocal about putting family first, or just putting an important stamp on how important family is,” the father of two told Moneyish. “I know a lot of ‘weekend dads,’ and there is nothing wrong with that, but I see more and more dads asking questions on how they can try to be equally successful in both their careers and as fathers. And seeing these really high-profile guys (make family a priority) helps the average man who is either becoming a dad or is currently a dad realize, ‘If he can do it, why not me?’”
Stay-at-home dad Jason Greene agreed. “Seeing a powerful man like Paul Ryan making his family a priority will hopefully encourage more fathers that they can leave work when they’re supposed to, and not feel pressured to work overtime all of the time,” the Astoria father of an 11-year-old and 13-year-old told Moneyish. “I’ve loved watching my kids become who they are, and getting an idea of who they are going to be. And those are things that Paul Ryan is missing out on by being a ‘weekend parent.’”
That being said, Greene also expressed some skepticism about Ryan’s timing. He’s not the only Republican lawmaker retiring at the end of this term; 39 GOP members are not running for re-election at the midterms, and Democrats have a fighting chance to take control of Congress. The House Speaker told the press on Wednesday that neither the pending midterms nor the president had influenced his decision to leave. “Not at all,” he said. “I did not seek this job. I took it reluctantly.” He added, “I have given this job everything that I have.”
“It’s probably wrong of me to assume that this person, whom I don’t know at all, would use his kids as scapegoats to leave the current political climate,” Greene said. “I just wonder why he would pick now not to be a weekend dad, when his kids are already teenagers. I think it’s much better to establish a relationship with kids earlier on — but better late than never.”
Many politicians, executives and workers have cited family time as their reason for stepping away from their high-profile positions.
Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian announced he was stepping down from his full-time position at the company earlier this year in part because he wanted to spend more time doing things important for his baby daughter with tennis champ Serena Williams. But he also wanted to switch gears to focus on his new venture capital fund. Visa CEO Charlie Scharf stepped down in 2016 to “spend more time with his family,” and then-President Barack Obama’s chief of staff Bill Daley resigned in early 2012, also citing a need to be with family, even as the president was facing tough reelection odds.
This is a tactic often used by politicians and executives to cover up an awkward exit, said Roy Cohen, author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.” “Usually when people are getting fired, and their companies are trying to offer them a soft landing, they’re limited in how much they can say. So they’ll fall back on leaving for ‘personal reasons’ or ‘family reasons,’” he told Moneyish. “But we hear this so often that no one believes it anymore.”
In Ryan’s case, Cohen wonders whether other factors are at play. “He is far too ambitious. It’s so completely out of character for an individual who is so highly focused around career,” he said. “There has to be a genuine reason for why a person is stepping down now; maybe there’s a child in need, or a sick spouse. But just saying, ‘I’ve decided to spend more time with my family,’ rings hollow with no additional insight.”
Some on social media expressed similar skepticism about Ryan’s retirement for the same reason: “Am I the only one who thinks Paul Ryan, despite saying he doesn’t want to be a weekend dad, has every intention of running for full time president in 2020?” tweeted one.
Am I the only one who thinks Paul Ryan, despite saying he doesn't want to be a weekend dad, has every intention of running for full time president in 2020?
— ajsgma❄🌊 (@ajsgmajc) April 11, 2018
Republican strategist Jessica Proud also told Moneyish that falling back on family is a good way to save face when your election prospects aren’t looking good. “No one ever wants to say, ‘I’m not running again because I don’t think I can win,’” she said.
But she believes that Ryan taking family time “rings true” since he was reluctant to accept the speakership in the first place, and he’s got accomplishments including last year’s tax overhaul and last month’s budget deal to increase military funding under his belt.
“He’s always been more of a policy guy than a political guy, and getting tax reform was a big feather in his cap that he can walk away knowing he did something meaningful,” she said. “He very reluctantly accepted the job and was very vocal about the family concerns, so I think people should mostly give him the benefit of the doubt.”
She agreed however that “it’s not great optics, though, heading into a midterm,” and conceded that leaving a high-profile position for “family reasons” has become a go-to because it’s difficult to disprove. “While people might express skepticism, it’s hard for detractors to say, ‘There’s no possible way he cares about being with his family!’ Doesn’t really fly, ya know? It’s an easy runway.”
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