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Silicon Valley sees a lot more stay-at-home fathers than other urban areas. (Nicole Hill/Getty Images/Rubberball)
Silicon Valley sees a lot more stay-at-home fathers than other urban areas. (Nicole Hill/Getty Images/Rubberball)

Balance

Young men in Silicon Valley choosing kids over work Add to ...

The Chambers’ approach is increasingly common in Silicon Valley. Men and women both work, with one person in a stable corporate job with health insurance, while the other starts or joins a startup. Then they switch. The divide spreads out the financial risk, and also allows the parents to alternate over the years who takes on more family responsibilities.

Mauria Finley and Greg Yap, both 39, take 50/50 division to an even more detailed level. Both are analytical people with a classic Stanford-educated, Silicon Valley pedigree. After they had their two sons, they found a concrete method to splitting up the duties. They sat down and calculated who was picking the kids up and dropping them off at school, who was doing the laundry.

“We tallied it and saw that I was doing more,” Ms. Finley says. So they redistributed tasks more equally. When Ms. Finley got up in the middle of the night to breastfeed, Mr. Yap would change more diapers.

Some decisions have been more emotional. Ms. Finley is the founder and CEO of an e-commerce startup, Citrus Lane, based in Mountain View, Calif. Until last year, Mr. Yap ran a 200-person team at Ventana, a biotechnology company based in Arizona. He was flying there on Monday morning, then flying home Friday night.

“It was a job I loved doing,” he says. “But eventually Mauria said, ‘I just can’t take this any more.’ Both of us underestimated the emotional component of me being away. It wasn’t about having enough people around to get everything done, it was about having the partner she was used to having each and every day.”

Ms. Finley had to keep her company in Silicon Valley – close to the funders and the best engineers and business development professionals. Working from home wasn’t an option for Mr. Yap. So he left, and he is now looking for something closer to home.

For other fathers who have had great financial success, fatherhood can be viewed as a welcome sabbatical from career, or even a retirement option. Serial entrepreneur Venky Harinarayan sold his latest start-up to Walmart in 2011. He stayed on with the retailer for a year, then left last June. He’s thinking about what his next company will be, but not much. Mainly he’s been hanging out with his three sons – a 12-year-old and four-year-old twins – driving them to school and appointments. One twin recently begged him not to go back to work.

Mr. Harinarayan has noticed other men doing the same, including fathers who fared well in the Groupon and Facebook IPOs. “There are a bunch of guys just chilling out in Silicon Valley right now,” he says.

While stay-at-home mothers are very common in Silicon Valley, consistent with studies that show that wives of men with high-paying, time-consuming jobs are more likely to stop working, there are also more stay-at-home fathers in the region compared with other urban areas, says Mr. Smith, the author.

Bryan Johnson stopped working after his second daughter was born. His wife, Jocelyn Goldfein, who is now the director of engineering at Facebook, was working at VMware at the time. The business software company had an IPO while she was out on maternity leave, so money was not a concern.

“To me it was always clear that I would stay at home,” Mr. Johnson says. “Jocelyn had a higher-powered career. She was moving much more quickly up the ranks and making a lot more money.” Even before the kids were born, Mr. Johnson, now 38, got home from work several hours earlier than Ms. Goldfein, 37, and cooked dinner and cleaned the house.

“I consider this a key to my success,” Ms. Goldfein says. “I get the occasional twinge that I’m not mom of the year. But I also know the girls don’t lack for anything. As a family, we’re ahead of the game.” And for Mr. Johnson, spending an afternoon at the park with the girls is preferable to an office.

Same with Michael Wolberg. He has got much more satisfaction from his parental achievements than professional. When Margeaux was a baby, he and his wife took her to a restaurant with Ms. Wolberg’s parents. They watched as he put her to sleep in less than a minute, by nudging his face close to hers and letting her rub his ears. “It was impressive,” he says.

For him, these bonds are more valuable than any paid work. “When you look past all the stuff that isn’t so pleasant, the diapers and the middle of the night this-or-that, the emergency room trip during the Super Bowl because she thought she had a bead stuck in her nose, that all melts away,” he says. “And you’ve got these wonderful little beings.”

April Dembosky is the FT’s San Francisco correspondent.

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