Photo: Tony Alter via Flickr
House Speaker Paul Ryan has announced that he is retiring from Congress at the end of his term. Why?
He wants to spend more time with his family — and wants to avoid becoming a “weekend dad.”
Ryan said: “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.”
Ryan, 48 years old, has three teenage children with his wife, Janna. Presumably, he’s using the term “weekend dad” to mean that he would only see his kids on weekends, though that’s one of two potential definitions of “weekend dad,” according to Wiktionary. (The other refers to a divorced dad who only has custody of the kids on weekends, but Ryan is not divorced.)
We can’t say for sure whether that’s really Ryan’s primary motive against seeking re-election in November 2018. As The New York Times pointed out as early as 2006, “spending more time with family” can be a cover-up for another, more private reason. It’s hard to argue that someone should devote less attention to parenting.
But Ryan has spoken often about his dad duties in the past. Most notably, before Ryan became House Speaker, one of his “conditions” for taking the job was getting weekends off to spend with his family, according to HuffPost.
“One of the reasons why I never wanted to be in elected leadership,” Ryan told HuffPost, “is because here, in Congress, elected leaders have always been expected to travel on weekends.”
And in 2016, Ryan told People magazine: “I miss things during the week, so the hardest question [my kids] ask is ‘Are you going to be home?’ when I know that I’m not. That’s the hardest one.”
One potential reason for Ryan’s dedication to fatherhood is that he lost his own father to alcoholism when he was just 15. “Having not had a dad for a long time, it brings you much closer to your kids and your family,” Ryan told The Associated Press in 2014.
Men in and out of politics are spending more time parenting than previous generations of fathers
Ryan is hardly the only man in politics to say he’s leaving to spend more time with family. Arne Duncan, for example, the education secretary under President Barack Obama, stepped down in 2015 to spend more time with his family in Chicago.
Politicians’ attitudes toward fatherhood may reflect a broader shift in the population. Pew Research Center statistics reveal that fathers and mothers are now equally likely to say parenting is extremely important to their identity. And in 2015, fathers spent triple the amount of time on childcare that they spent in 1965. (It’s worth noting that mothers increased the time they spent parenting too, albeit not as drastically.)
As for politicians, some say fatherhood is their primary role, second to their work in government. In an email to Washington Post reporter Ben Terris, President Bill Clinton said that “a couple of years after we moved to the White House, when Chelsea was in high school, we had what may have been our only argument.”
Clinton went on: “The subject is long forgotten, but I remember telling her, ‘As long as you’re in this house, being president is my second most important job.’ ”