Jewish World Review April 30, 2002 / 18 Iyar, 5762
Hughes is President Bush's trusted top advisor. No one except Laura Bush has his ear like she does. She's the most powerful politico in Washington. Hughes has essentially been the President's inner-circle for years and is so close to him insiders will tell you that having Hughes around allows the President to be in two places at once.
And she's saying "adios" to it all this summer.
Hughes, 45, has a husband and a 15-year-old son, and they are all lonely for their home in Texas. Hughes, it seems, is also lonely for family. She said she wants to spend more time with her son as he ticks off his last three years in high school before heading off for college. And, she explained, she wants her son to know his Texas roots.
In other words, Hughes is giving-up perhaps the most powerful job in Washington next to the presidency itself - in order to spend more time with her family.
Now as more than one commentator has pointed out, if an equally powerful man suddenly said "I'm leaving because I want to spend more time with my family," the press would all interpret that as "the indictments are about to be handed down."
But Hughes is a mom, so when she says she's leaving for family reasons everybody from the president to the White House elevator operator believes her.
This "double-standard" has hardly gone unremarked in Washington. There Hughes' departure for family-land, and the unusual face-value acceptance of her reason, has been duly noted - and bemoaned - by the chattering classes.
But why all the fuss? Yes there is something of a different standard for moms and dads in our culture, and despite decades of social engineering the differences apparently remain.
Think of the way the very words are used. Though hardly definitive it provides a glimpse, even if not always a flattering one, of how we view parental roles: to "mother" someone means to take care of, to protect, and sometimes pejoratively "to smother." "To father," used in a general context, means to biologically parent a child.
Now thankfully this is not as far as it goes, as especially in recent years there's been something of a reawakening to the fact that fathers are not only every bit as important to their children as moms, but that they fill a unique role that's not just that of "assistant mother." That in fact it's the differences and the unique dynamism between a mom and a dad that's so important for the upbringing of healthy kids.
Maybe that's one reason why when a two-career couple finds out she's going to have their first baby, their responses are almost always so different. He typically thinks, "I've got to get a raise - I've got to work harder or smarter." She thinks, "I've got to cut back. Gee I wonder about working from home or working flex-time. . ."
Anyway, back to Karen Hughes. It doesn't hurt that she was known to be so close to the president that it was simply impossible to think that a political power play or anything else had pushed her out the door. And doesn't that speak volumes about how the so-called "glass ceiling," the supposedly invisible barrier that keeps women out of America's top slots, has been shattered?
But it's also true that being a mom and saying she wanted more time with her family, that she was in essence freely sacrificing for her husband and child, bought her instant credibility.
I have a friend who earns a very good living in a high pressure career. It's not his "dream job;" the hours can be crazy and the work is intense. Though somehow he still manages to spend a lot of time with his family - he has a wife he adores and three terrific young kids. Well, what about his work? As he put it to me, "four out of the five people in our family are really happy - and that's what matters to me."
Yes sometimes dads really do leave top jobs for their families, and
sometimes moms don't. Still, while committed moms and dads often
sacrifice for each other and their kids, that sacrifice typically looks
different because moms and dads typically choose differently. And
that's not something the offended chattering classes or the social
engineers need to fix - because it's not a problem.