I usually hate to talk on planes. The forced intimacy feels more than a little violating. Plus, how often does a mother get six hours alone by herself? But it was hard not to talk with Benn Eifert when I met him on a flight from New York City back home to San Francisco in the fall of 2015. Dashing and tall, Benn and his long legs seemed to barely fit into the middle seat he’d been assigned. What was most appealing about Benn was the brimming enthusiasm he expressed for his growing family. His wife, he told me, was expecting their first child in a few months. He said he couldn’t wait to be a dad. And then he shared with me how frustrated and sad he was that his workplace was so unsupportive.
Benn, who traveled for business two to three weeks a month, wanted to slow down his frantic schedule. He wanted more time with his wife, Erin, and their child. At the very least, he wanted to take an extended paternity leave when the baby was born. No, no, and, no, was the answer he was given.
Ironically, Benn didn’t work for some big monolith of a company; he worked for a hedge fund that he had co-founded. His partner was a more established New York financier. Benn, who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, was the genius quant jock with a PhD in economics who co-managed the company’s portfolio. Their partnership was a great blend of old school experience and new school smarts that is, until it came to how they viewed their roles as fathers.
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Benn’s business partner had a wife who didn’t work outside the home and took full responsibility for their family’s needs while he focused exclusively on his career. Their traditional arrangement meant Benn’s partner could be all-in, all-of-the-time professionally. He wasn’t involved in the daily caregiving of the children, and his wife didn’t have a career that required any kind of accommodations.
When it came to being a father, his partner told Benn the first year didn’t matter. “And avoid any attempt to change a diaper. If they see you can do it, you’ll never get off the hook,” his partner said, only half-jokingly.
But Benn didn’t want to be excluded from caregiving during his child’s first year, including the diaper changing. He and Erin, a surgeon, wanted to share responsibility for their children. Not just because it was “the right thing to do” but because, as Benn told me, “being an engaged father is who I want to be. It’s part of the legacy I want to leave my children. And, I know I’ll enjoy it!”
Benn tried to find a solution, but his partner wasn’t willing to make accommodations. He urged Benn to move to New York so there would be less travel and so they could work side-by-side. The business had been built with the understanding that he and his partner would be an East Coast/West Coast team, but the traditional world of finance was struggling with that arrangement.
“Can’t your wife move?” his partner asked. Benn’s answer was no. Erin’s career was flourishing, and neither she nor Benn wanted to leave the Bay Area.
Not long after the flight, I received an email from Benn telling me he’d decided to quit. “It looks like the only way for me to really be there for Erin and the new baby is to leave the fund I started . pretty disappointing. But it’s the right decision … On to new adventures :).”
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