Corporate Bigamy: Family Competes with Work

Published October 16, 1986. I’ve been reading an interesting book during the past few days. “Corporate Bigamy” was written by Mortimer Feinberg and Richard Dempewolff and is about men who are married and have families, who also love their work . . . literally.

Sometimes these men care for and are more interested in their occupations than in their spouse and children. Hence the term “Corporate Bigamy.” Wives and children have to compete in a real way with a husband’s job.

The book was mainly about male corporation executives, since over 90 percent of executives are men. But the same principles would apply to the rapidly growing number of married women who have children and are becoming mid-range or top executives. In a similar way, their husbands and children will have to compete for their time and attention, which are often diverted to occupational interests and concerns.

Men who are corporate bigamists work 60 to 70 hours a week, travel up to 10 weeks each year, and leave much of the child rearing to the wife and mother. The wife and children enjoy a high standard of living on the unusually high salary he earns, but there is a price to pay.

Corporate bigamists are often treated like “guests” in their own homes. Family concerns must be handled with little or no involvement on his part, since the corporate bigamist must invest most of his time and attention to his first love, his occupation. According to the authors, the price many corporate wives pay for the high standard of living is loneliness, lack or attention, alienation, and frustration.

Perhaps the corporate bigamist, the man who spends most of his time and energy on his job – and loves—it is a stereotype. Feingberg and Dempewolff note that there are top executives who are also excellent husbands and fathers. The managerial skills that got them the executive positions are also applied to home and family life. They are able to establish priorities and manage time, so it can also be spent with their wives and children, as well as with key people at the office.

Former president Jimmy Carter was one executive who was able to maintain a balance between occupation on one hand and marriage and family on the other. Saul Pett, an Associated Press writer, once wrote this profile of President Carter:

A man who can keep 25 complicated projects in his head without stumbling over a detail, a man with a bible on his desk and a finely-honed schedule that includes ’12:15 Lunch, Oval Office, Rosalynn Carter.’

A man of diverse parts which ordinarily don’t connect in most human beings, a man who likes poetry and music and uses words like ‘maximize’ and ‘support capability’ and wrestles with his daughter on the floor after dinner.

Or spends hours helping her build a lean-to at Camp David. Or holds her on Air Force One, and when she asks, “Where does the moon come from?” gives her a patient, detailed lecture on the solar system. Or takes her to a movie when momma is out of town. An urban man who told Playboy what he did, and with Amy watches his wife disappear in the sky on the way to South America, watches until the last moment and turns and says, “I miss her already.” And no one who heard him doubted him.

A Baptist who advised his sinning aide to “marry the girl,” a family man who invites an assistant with marital troubles to come to the White House with his wife and kids and see how the Carters get along. A father who could not prevent some marital trouble in his own son.

Obviously, President Jimmy Carter was not a corporate bigamist, but don’t misunderstand. He loved his work all right. He just wasn’t married to it.

And I guess my final question is, “Are we?”

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