Male Politicians Answer The Questions That Female Politicians Always Get Asked

WASHINGTON — When Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) considered whether to run for House speaker, one of his main considerations was whether he would still be able to carve out time to spend with his wife and three children.

“I cannot, and will not, give up my family time,” Ryan said in October. 

His remarks were notable, in part, because they came from a man. Traditionally, female politicians are the ones who have had to answer extensive questions about how they can handle the demands of elected office while also being a wife and mother

While running for governor of North Dakota in 2000, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp — who is now a U.S. senator — was often asked how old her kids were. She would respond that they were the same age as her male opponent’s children.

In the 2008 election, Republican Sarah Palin faced constant questions and skepticism from some voters that she would be able to be vice president while taking care of an infant with Down syndrome. Ryan, meanwhile, faced very few questions about his young children when he ran for vice president in 2012, even though his family is also central to his considerations.

The Huffington Post gave four male members of Congress — Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) — the chance to answer some of these questions as well. All made clear that ensuring they have enough time to spend with their families remains a central consideration for them.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.)

Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), 51, made history last year when he defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in the district’s GOP primary. His win stunned the political establishment and secured a majority victory for grassroots conservatives and talk radio figures who had championed his candidacy. Before joining Congress, Brat served as an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College. He and his wife, Laura, have two children — Sophia, 13, and Jonathan, 17.

“I am very lucky,” Brat said. “My boy, Jonathan, is just a self-starter and has achieved academic excellence, and he’s just a great person to everybody. Sophia is just beloved at school and has positive energy that just keeps the whole family alive. And my wife is just all in, and she’s just been in a huge sport.”

When you were campaigning, did you get many questions about how you balance being a congressman and a father?

No, no. Not [while] campaigning. My probabilities were probably not high enough for people to speculate that far ahead.

What does the phrase “work-life balance” mean to you?

Honestly, I think it’s become part of the popular lexicon, and it’s almost void of meaning. And I’ll give you an example that comes up.

I get to talk with all the principals of all the high schools around, and the same issues come up with these highly talented high school kids. They talk about creating a whole person and all this stuff, while the kids study until midnight every night. And they drudge through every piano lesson and arts program and help volunteer at the hospital.

Then the politically correct institutions feel somewhat guilty about this probably, so they say, “We create the whole person,” whatever. And if you sit down and you ask them, “Do you really think this is a balance?” They say, “We know. No, it’s not.”

And so, I don’t think there is a balance. Balance can be good. But the term as it’s used is pretty ill-defined right now. And I think the same thing kind of applies up here. It’s not a balance. We’re way over the edge. 

So then out of guilt or something, somebody creates these terms called “work-life balance,” which are fun to chat about, but we don’t get to see our kids like we would like. So for me, it just comes down to a moral question. Is it worth it? Is what you’re doing morally good?

I had a Greek professor in seminary. His name was Diogenes Allen. I think he’s passed away, but he had a course on Christian love, and he would say, “Look. I’m from the Greeks. We’ve been persecuted for years and years and years. I’ve been working hard, my family worked hard before — fighting the fight, etc. — away from my family. Other people away from their family for months, years. But the kids see what you’re doing.”

So there’s no balance there, but sometimes there’s not alternatives. So I just use that by way of example.

Your family still lives back in the district. When do you get home?

Well, we go usually Monday to Thursday, or Tuesday to Friday, three weeks out of the month and then back home one week. So that’s the typical schedule.

Where do you stay when you’re here?

In the office. Paul Ryan style. [Brat points to a cot in the closet.]

How do you try to make sure your family still has a relatively normal life out of the public eye?

In a strange way, my role here doesn’t affect them as much as almost it probably should. The kids study — the boy’s 17, he studies until midnight, literally. So if I’m home, it’s nice that I’m home — we can take a five and make popcorn or something like that. And it’s better to be around, sitting on the couch if they have questions, and you can tell jokes when they come by and do all that kind of stuff.

But it doesn’t really affect the schedule that much, and luckily, I get home on Thursday late or Friday late. Thursday late doesn’t matter much. Friday late, then they’re done with school. So then you get a break and you can go out to eat or something.

And then on Saturday, they have activities and school stuff, and I’ll have some activities. So it’s like a normal family on Saturday. Most people are running in all directions, so we try to coordinate. Then Sunday is more family day. We try to do church and we go to Five Guys after church every Sunday.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I’m a little more boring. I don’t really like categories one way or the other, so I’m not really a category guy. That’s probably the most accurate thing to say.

When you get time for yourself, what do you like to do?

How long do I have? Tennis, I love. Fishing, if I’ve got a little longer. Going out to eat with the family.

I love movies — usually watch them on the TV but theater’s optimal. Over break we have a whole series of them coming up. “Star Wars” is coming out, “Bridge of Spies.” There are a couple other good ones. Any sci-fi stuff we all like.

Date night with the wife — we usually do Saturday night if we can, if it’s at all possible. Sunday night she always makes a home-cooked meal for all of us. That’s about it. Then back to work.

How do you and your family split up housework?

How do we split it? In Christian love. Trying to help each other get done whatever needs to get done. So we don’t really split; it’s just whatever needs to get done.

Has being in Congress been crazier and more hectic than you expected?

Oh yeah. It’s just 24/7 in your head, and that’s hard. You wish you could turn that off for the kids. That’s the hard part. So sometimes you can. Sometimes I’ll just take a block of time and schedule kid time or do whatever.

But you can’t get everything done. So that’s why you have to draw the mental lines. You have to just draw some lines and say, “This is for myself, this is for the family.” 

What advice would you give to fathers who are thinking of getting into politics?

I am lucky. My kids are into it, my wife is into it. So that’s a big consideration. I would ask them: “Is your wife on the same philosophical path that you’re on?”

You’re going to be basically giving up a lot of your life to something you believe in. So if you’re not all on the same page, make sure you’ve got that straightened out ahead of time.

Are your kids interested in politics?

Jonathan wasn’t, but now I think he is getting interested. The presidential candidates come around, so like any kid, when you get to see them live or something [it’s exciting] — so he’s catching the bug a little bit. He’s a science guy. But yeah, when you get to see the psychology of these people and meet them, it is fascinating to think, “Hey, I’m going to meet maybe the next president.”

And Sophia, she likes it, but she just loves the flair of it all. She just loves the events and the electricity in the air. So she does like it.

They actually both do think about the policy stuff. Having a dad in ethics for his whole life, they didn’t have an option.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)  

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), 63, has made a name for himself as one of the most progressive voices in Congress during his two terms.

He has four children and four grandchildren: Andy, 41, is the father of grandson Clayton; Emily, 34, is the mother of Leo and Jackie; Liz, 31, is the mother of Carolyn; and Caitlin, 28, has a baby on the way, expected to arrive around Christmas.

Brown’s wife, Connie Schultz, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and has become a force on social media, where she engages readers in respectful debate on public policy issues — and occasionally posts snapshots of her life with Brown.

Have you received many questions over the years during your campaigns about your family and personal life?

I was a single parent for about 16, 17, 18 years. I would occasionally get questions that way then. But not much. It really is what you people — meaning reporters — ask women, not men, as you know.

My wife Connie is always saying [about the media when they talk to female politicians], “They would never ask a man that question.”

What does the phrase work-life balance mean to you?

Fortunately of our four grandchildren, three of them live in Ohio. My wife and I have an apartment in Columbus. I live in Cleveland; we have a small apartment in Columbus. 

They are all glad when we invite them over for family dinners, because we get to relieve the chaos of their children for a period of time, and we make dinner and we have really cool family dinners. We get to do that pretty often. I try to, when I’m in Columbus, end the day at 6 or 6:30 so we can do those dinners.

We also bribe my daughter with the two children to come to Cleveland every few weeks. We agree they can go out on a date on Saturday, and we get to see them and we watch the kids while they do that. So there’s a good mix of incentives and bribes to take over the grandchildren.

How often are you in Ohio compared to Washington, D.C.?

I’m in Ohio every single weekend, with rare exceptions. I’m probably in Ohio 48 of 52 weekends, if not more. And then when we’re in session — I get around the state a lot. There are so many media markets, and there are 88 counties and it’s a populous state. And that means usually in Cleveland on weekends but not quite always in Cleveland.

Occasionally, my wife will come to Columbus, and we’ll spend the weekend there. Otherwise we’ll come down to Columbus for a night or two sometimes. And sometimes my wife is in Cleveland, and I’ll just go and see the kids.

Like tonight, I’ll fly back to Columbus because I have some things in Cincinnati tomorrow — a women’s conference, actually. My wife is one of the speakers. I’m just going to stop over and see the newborn. I just talked to my daughter an hour ago — I’ll stop over and see the newborn if she’s not being too fussy. And that’s her mother’s decision. I’m willing to see her when she’s fussy.

How have you balanced the fact that you’re a public figure with trying to make your family, particularly your children, have a normal life?

Really locking away time when I’m with them and not having it be about politics or about being on a Blackberry or about phone calls. I don’t say I do that always, every time, but I do my best at that, and Connie is very much the same. 

It’s a challenge always for everybody in any line of work, but we have done a reasonably good job at always having one day a week off, on a Saturday or Sunday. Sometimes I obviously have to work — I’m working parts of seven days — but we’re pretty good at keeping one day off that’s either with Connie, or with Connie and children and grandchildren, and we’ve done that pretty well over my time in the Senate.

And the things we do at home. We’ve had a garden the last couple years. Great tomatoes one year, not so great the next year. My daughters kind of make fun of it because I used to make them help me in the garden when they were little.

But anyway, they’re still willing to eat the tomatoes — they just don’t want to have anything to do with actually helping me work in it. But their kids will want to come out and play in it.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Absolutely, yes. Unequivocally.

My wife, when we met — second marriage for each [of us] — we’ve been married 12 years. This has been public domain enough — you may have picked this up if you ever Googled her or me — but she didn’t tell me this until we’d gone out a while.

She said she checked my voting record. If it weren’t 100 percent on choice and marriage equality, there would have been no first date.

What advice would you give to fathers who are thinking of getting into politics?

There’s always going to be another election, but your kids are going to be 5 years old or 10 years old only once. I’ve been really lucky — I was a single parent for years — to have that relationship, and it’s deep, it’s meaningful to all of us.

There’s a Margaret Mead line I love. She once said that wisdom and knowledge are passed from grandparent to grandchild, and I really made it a point that my daughters, especially, got to know their grandmother in a way that they still talk about. My mom’s been dead now for eight years. She died at 88. My older daughter’s named after her, Emily. And they were very close to their grandmother.

Soon after I was divorced — 25 years ago, more or less — I was on an airplane and met a woman and she suggested that I do something, and I passed on the idea to many others. I went out and bought out a nice lined, bound book, and I started writing stories about my daughters in it.

And we called it “The Funny Book” because it had a lot of funny stories. The only rule was that they couldn’t say, “Dad, I’ve got an idea, write this in the funny book.” It had to be more spontaneous, and I wrote probably 150 pages by hand over the years. 

Then when my first daughter got married, I recopied it and gave it to her at the rehearsal dinner, and then gave [a copy to] my second daughter when she graduated from college. It’s my favorite possession of anything I own. 

Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.)

Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), 49, married his longtime partner, Randy Florke, in July 2014. In a New York Times interview last year, Florke said that marriage really wasn’t a priority for them because they had already been together for two decades. But that all changed after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage equality nationwide.

“When something is not really accessible to you, part of your brain pretends like it doesn’t want it,” Florke said. 

In 2012, Maloney won his race and became the first openly gay person elected to Congress from New York.

Maloney and Florke have three children — Jesus, 26, Daley, 14, and Essie, 12.

During your campaign, did you get many questions about your family life and how you could juggle being a father while being a politician?

Well, I have an unconventional family, so I think people had a variety of questions about my family. It is true that people ask me all the time how I do it when I have school-age children in New York and a job that requires me to go to Washington most weeks. I think people are always interested, because they face these challenges in their own lives. It’s something everyone can identify with.

I tell a story about the day I was sworn in in 2013, in my my first term. My children were on the [House] floor with me. It’s a very nice day, and the kids are on the floor, and you’re doing a big swearing-in ceremony, and it takes a long time because they go through member by member, 435 people, and they all have their names called out in the vote for Speaker. So you’re on the floor for an eternity.

It’s really hot, and one of my kids looked up at me when they were getting to the M’s, right before I was supposed to stand up, and she said, “Dad, I’m going to be sick.” I don’t know if you have kids, but when my kids say they’re going to be sick, they mean they’re going to be sick in about three seconds.

And so I just ran her out through the saloon doors, out into the women’s bathroom, which was my first trip to the women’s bathroom in the House of Representatives. She ended up being fine, and kids get sick, right?

But the reason I tell that story is because you can go to Congress, but your kids still get sick. You can go to Congress, but you don’t stop being a parent. And everyone has that experience, whether they’re a teacher, or they drive a truck, or they perform brain surgery. Your kids are your kids, and you don’t stop being a parent just because you have to get to work.

Does your family still live in the district, and how often do you get home?

Yes, they do, and we’re generally in Washington about three days a week. I’m luckier than some of them because my commute is a little shorter. So I can get home in a few hours, and it’s not great, but we’re making it work.

What does the phrase work-life balance mean to you?

It means making good choices. I think that sometimes we think we don’t have enough time, when really we just aren’t focused on what’s important.

So for me, it’s about keeping your priorities straight.

For example, my scheduler knows to put my kids’ soccer games and football games on the schedule. It’s not just something that we try to fit in. It’s scheduled, we do it. Period, full stop. It’s as important as any other meeting. We get there on time, we stay the whole time.

We don’t treat things that relate to my family as second-class items on the schedule. They are the most important things in my life, and they get treated that way on my schedule. 

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

You’re talking to a guy in a same-sex relationship, so we don’t think in those terms. We think in terms of, our kids need two people who love them, and we both do everything.

I’m a feminist if it means I believe everyone should be treated equally and no one is above doing anything that is important, particularly at home.

I do the shopping, I do the cooking. Randy does the laundry, organizes the kids’ schedule. We split it up, but neither of us is above anything, and nothing is off-limits for either of us. The fact is, we are a team.

So maybe it’s different in an unconventional relationship, in a same-sex relationship, but we naturally see ourselves as equals in everything we do at home. Obviously the burden falls on him more than me because of the fact that I’m a different city a few days a week.

Believe me, when I get home, it’s not, “Hello, Mr. Congressman.” It’s, “Take the trash out” and “Get the algebra homework done.”

When you do get time to yourself, what are some of your hobbies or what do you like to do?

I’ll let you know as soon as I find some of that time! No, look — I get up early and I work out. I find that very important. My day starts at about 5:30. I go to the gym, and that gives me a couple of hours when I can just blow off some steam and keep myself healthy. 

And sometimes it’s not about being by yourself; sometimes it’s about combining things that are important to you with the things you have to do.

My kids like to come with me on the weekends when I have a schedule in the district. So when I go to a veterans event or I’m going to visit a senior center, I bring my two girls with me, and that allows them to see what I’m doing, and it allows us to spend time together. And they enjoy it.

I think kids like to see where their parents work, and kids like to be included, and it makes them feel important. The truth is, they can be a big help to me when I take them around. Sometimes we think that what’s important is that you need time alone or time away to take away some of the stress.

In fact, what really takes away the stress is when you feel like the things in your life that are important are getting attention, and you’re doing the right things by the people you care about. That makes me more relaxed, when I feel like I’m meeting my obligations and I’m doing a good job as a dad, as a husband, as a friend. 

What advice would you give to fathers who are interested in getting involved or working in politics?

You have to remember what’s important. I tell my team all the time that Congress is not the most important thing in my life — my family is. And I hope Congress isn’t the most important thing in the lives of my team.

The fact of the matter is, we work real hard, and we take this very seriously, and we have a tough job to do. But we are going to integrate that with the things that really matter and that really are lasting — and especially when it comes to meeting our obligations to our loved ones. That’s just about priorities.

It’s a myth to think that you have to sacrifice your family to succeed professionally. The truth is that things go hand in hand. The best professionals and the most successful people I’ve met often are the ones who feel good about their private lives.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.)

Photos of Rep. Markwayne Mullin’s (R-Okla.) wife, Christie, and five children — Jim, 11, Andrew, 10, Larra, 7, and twins Ivy and Lynette, 5 — fill the lobby of his Capitol Hill office, giving it the feel of a cozy living room.

Mullin, 38, speaks often about how he and his wife adopted the twins in 2013. Ivy and Lynette had been separated since they were infants and were living with distant relatives of his wife. The couple decided to adopt them so that they could grow up together. His sons made a splash on Nov. 3, when they joined their father on the House floor and helped him cast a vote for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to take over as Speaker.

The two-term congressman gave The Huffington Post one of his challenge coins, which bears the words: “God. Family. You.” He said it symbolizes the commitment he and his wife made when he took office to make sure their children are a part of his job.

“What’s the point of all this,” he said, “if we lose our kids and if we lose our family?”

What does the phrase “work-life balance” mean to you?

I think it means priorities. [My kids] know that daddy has to go to work. But when I’m at home, it’s time to put a different hat on.

There isn’t a clean break. There shouldn’t be a home life and a work life. It should be all included, because everybody is involved in this. 

But when I’m at home though, I don’t have hobbies. My hobbies are the kids. If they ever want to go with me, they go with me. If I have a meeting the kids might not need to be in, then I will reschedule it that day if the kids want to go with me that day.

Now, if they go with me, they know how to sit, they know how to be quiet and they know how to pay attention. And ironically enough, they ask a lot of questions. Our kids are intelligent.

But when I’m at home too, my focus is on them, and I give them 100 percent when I’m there. I’m not watching TV, I’m not going and playing golf. I’m not getting out by myself. It’s my kids.

And if we’re out on the farm working, they’re with me. If we’re going to go hunting, they’re with me. And I try to keep them with me all the time. And my dad did that. My dad worked away from home, Monday through Friday, but Saturday through Sunday, dad’s hobby was us.

Does your family still primarily live back in the district?

Oh yes, absolutely.

How often do you go home?

Every weekend.

Where do you stay when you’re here?

Right where you’re sitting [on the couch].

How often are your kids up here?

When they’re out of school and one of them wants to come up, they come up. And on their birthdays, I bring every kid up on their birthday, just with daddy. Except the twins — my wife comes up with me with the twins. They come up with me on their birthday too, but Christie’s got to help me with them.

And any break that they have they come up. We try get them up here as much as possible.

With the Speaker’s election, [Jim and Andrew] were scheduled to come up here because we having the congressional football game with the Capitol police for a fundraiser. They wanted to see daddy play football. So we actually played a little hooky from school — but we worked it out from the school too. If they’ll do a report, the superintendent will allow a day or two of it to be like a field trip. So we were taking pictures with them, and they’ll do a presentation to the class. And it’s the best history the kids can get.

Every time I go to the floor, the kids love to go. They take those challenge coins I gave you, and they’ll give them to other kids. 

So it wasn’t anything unusual for them to be there. However, the boys also go to the gym and work out with me. [Paul Ryan’s] and my lockers are right beside each other. So when we were in [a House GOP conference meeting], Paul was actually holding Andrew, I think, on his lap — or Jim. One of the two on his lap. 

And so when it came time to vote, Andrew just popped up and called his name. He just thought that’s what he’s supposed to do. And that’s what he said. He said, “Daddy, I thought that’s what we were supposed to do.” And of course, it was funny. It caught everybody off-guard. My son, Jim, who’s the oldest — he was like, “Andrew, what were you thinking?”

Are they interested in politics?

Jim, no. He likes being up here. He thinks it’s the coolest thing in the world. He loves running around the Capitol and they think they own the place.

Andrew, my 10-year-old, is very interested in politics. But he’s that kid that’s with you, and you thank God for Google because he asks some of the craziest questions. But he’s very thoughtful. From the time he was 7 or 6 years old, when we were campaigning, he got it more than all of the rest of the kids. So he actually is. I’m trying to keep him away from it though!

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I hate labels. I think it’s the most ridiculous thing in the world. We live in a society where we can achieve things, but we hold ourselves back sometimes when we put labels on ourselves.

How do you explain your job to your children?

I don’t. I include them in the job. If you want your kids to understand what you do, then include them in what you do. They’re sharp, they’ll understand it. If you want to see how you behave, watch how they behave, because they’ll listen to what you’re doing more than listen to what you say. Just include them, and the inconvenience will go away.

You can see around my office. I like things neat. This is my area, and when they’re here, they destroy it. This drawer right here is nothing but toys and dolls and dress-up clothes for the kids — for the girls, not the boys. And when they’re here, I actually have to take a deep breath too.

But I love it, and I miss it, and every time I get on the plane to come up here, I think, “Did I spend enough time with them?” And when I get back, I can’t wait to get back, and I’m so excited. I would rather fly home, eat dinner with them and fly back up here, than to sit up here for 12 hours or 14 hours waiting for something to do.

When you are home, how do you and your wife divide housework?

Sunday morning our routine is we get up as a family, we cook breakfast. I have the bacon and eggs, Christie has the biscuits and gravy and whatever else. Then she goes and starts getting the girls ready, and the boys and I take care of the kitchen. We start cleaning it up. We divide the chores up. When it goes outside of that, the boys take care of upstairs, because that’s the cleaning part of it, and the girls take care of the downstairs, because that’s where the girls’ rooms are.

We use a rule: Don’t walk past it and leave it for someone else. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s the rule in our family. If there’s a pillow on the ground, you step on it or step over it — you can just as easily pick it up. So get in the habit of picking it up.

What advice would you give to fathers who are thinking of getting into politics?

Get your priorities right. Put family first. Well, it’s God, family and — as my coin says — you. If you’ve got those priorities out of whack, then what’s the point? You can’t be successful at this job — or at any job or any career that you have, be it male or female, if you have a rocky home life. It’s not possible. You can be average at best.

I quit working for myself the day we had our first child. Now, I was self-employed at the age of 20, and so was Christie — we were partners. But the day we had our first child, which was seven years later, that wasn’t about us anymore. Everything we do from that point is about building a future and a brighter future for our kids. It changed immediately.

When I go home, I don’t get out of my truck until that is done. I don’t walk through the door with a cellphone on my ear. I don’t walk through the door knowing I’ve got six emails to get done. I might as well finish those emails, or finish that conversation, before I walk in the door, so when the kids come running to me, I actually hug them, and they know I’m thankful to be home.

I make my priorities after I put them to bed. We pray as a family before we go to bed. Then we go to bed and put them to bed and kiss them goodnight. If my wife wants to go to sleep, that’s fine. I’ll sit at the kitchen table or my desk and work some more. And then I’ll get up early. I think you’ve got to get a routine.

Any professional has to have a routine. There’s no difference between a provider or not. We’ve all better have our priorities correct though.

Correction: This piece originally misstated the ages of Mullin’s twins. They are five, not six.

HuffPost UK interviewed prominent men in the media about their thoughts on these topics as well. Read the piece here.

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