Isn't It Sweet...
A moment ago, I was scared to death my son had been sucked under by quicksand behind the swings, but upon hearing that he had upchucked at the "friendship table" I was thrilled. Here was a genuine, minor emergency that I could answer in the middle of the day. I picked him up, bought him Gatorade, and cared for him the rest of the day -- all without the anxiety of missing time off the work clock.
Several months back, I underwent one my of my many life crises. Our second child was six months old and Wendy and I were still acclimating to life with two kids. I was working a ton of hours, at the office and later at home. I frequently missed dinners. Worst of all, Jacob often looked at me blankly, as if to say, "And you are?" And Benjamin was telling my wife, "I can't fall asleep until I give Daddy his cup of air." The "cup of air" involves my son pouring imaginary flavors in a pretend nightcap for a calming end to the day. Because of all my extra work hours, I was missing my cups of fresh air -- my kids.
After an unhealthy amount of soul-searching, I stepped off the linear track of career advancement and created a more flexible work schedule. As a result, I've had time to regularly change diapers, instead of the occasional wipe up. Jacob has gotten so used to it, he only poops when I'm the one with him. I'm also no longer inept at feeding him and have learned to imitate his dance moves. Recently, when we brought a runny-nosed Jacob into bed with us, he patted my chest and whispered one of his first words, "Dada." This was it. I had transformed from a nonentity to a key player (My wife, despite doing so much of the child care, couldn't sleep the rest of the night because she had yet to hear him say "Mama.")
Those precious moments
With Benjamin, I've had the chance to drive carpool on field trips, read books to his summer-camp group, and observe ball games and karate lessons. This Thanksgiving, I awkwardly helped in building a scaled-down Mayflower. My son was giddy about having me there, saying, "My Daddy can hold up the pole (mast) by himself." I lingered in the classroom after finishing the work and witnessed the secret life of my preschooler. I saw how Benjamin served himself lunch on "hot meal day" (he didn't eat much) and learned about his job of the week ("I go outside, check the sky, and I tell everyone about the weather").
While many of today's fathers don't have the same schedule I do, I'm encouraged by the growing trend of dads hanging out at the park around 3:30. Still, many workplaces expect their employees, especially dads, to prioritize the job in all situations. One corporate accountant told me he sneaks out a back exit to pick up his child from school. Another friend took time off to care for his sons while his wife was out of town on business. Upon returning to work, his boss joked, "We must not be keeping you busy enough if you have time to go play with the kids."
Fathers have an uphill battle to alter work stereotypes and expectations. But, I believe it's worth the struggle, even if all isn't perfect when you make the changes. I still find myself drifting to the computer, while the kids run around, to check work e-mail. Sometimes I fail to return work messages while I'm at Piano Play class. It's kind of a mess.
But it's a messy lifestyle that fits my peculiar personality and allows me to be there for Benjamin when his tummy's upset and for Jacob when he's looking for a parent to hug at 2 pm on a Thursday. For now, I'll live with the mess. I'll have plenty of time to clean up when they're in college.