Fatherhood fundamentally shifted not only in my life – what with increased responsibility, crazy sleep/eat/nap schedules and mountains of diapers – but what I wanted from life.
That made me the target reader for a recent Esquire magazine article, “Why Men Still Can’t Have It All,” about the evolving role shifts between moms and dads pursuing career and family.
My wife and I have a dual-income family with a less defined, non-traditional role system. It’s jury-rigged but quite functional. Most days. Like many family’s juggling multiple balls at all times, we tend to make it up as we go along.
Before I was married and had kids, I focused on my career. I job-jumped all over the country for higher salaries and bigger titles. I attended grad school on the weekends after working 80 hours. I loved every second of it. Then I hit a wall and flamed out quickly, struggling with one big question: “What is the point of all this work?” I wasn’t even 30, yet midlife crisis was in full bloom.
I took a hiatus from the corporate grind and opened a martial arts school – one of the best things I ever did. It was surprisingly hard but amazingly rewarding work though I knew it was not a “forever” thing for me. Once married, having met my wife at my school, I re-entered corporate America and all the pitfalls that accompany it because I thought its more structured schedule eventually would be more conducive to family life even though kids were a distant glimmer.
My first true effort at life-changing priorities came within 6 months of my first daughter’s birth. We moved to New York to eliminate my 5-hour round trip work commute from the suburbs of Philadelphia. The driving force – me wanting to be there “more” for my daughter. I was not then (nor am I now) judging dads who work long days, tuck their kids into bed then don’t see them again until the following night. That life just wasn’t what I wanted.
I wanted to be a father who can play a more active, some may say more maternal, role in the everyday lives of his children. Play dates, school pick-ups, homework, bathing, feeding, storytelling and the list goes one. I saw no reason why, as a father, I couldn’t have every bit the relationship to my kids that traditionally a mother would have.
This is a reality even though I earn about 80% of the income in our dual-income family. Like many people these days, we need every little bit to be able to provide the futures we want for our kids. With the heavier financial burden on my shoulders, I typical work more hours than my wife. However, I keep an extremely flexible work schedule so I never miss the big stuff (or even much of the little stuff) while providing for my family.
Still, not a day goes by that my heart doesn’t rip in two as my 1-year old walks me to the door saying “dada” as she waves goodbye, or my 4-year old says “You have to work AGAIN!” While Esquire suggests, as many have before, that women have a harder time getting ahead in their careers because they have a far more difficult time leaving their family at home to go to work than men possibly due to biological/hormonal differences, I beg to differ. I am not a woman, but I feel the hurt and tremendous guilt.
This, as Esquire points out, is the classic “Cat’s in the Cradle” syndrome that many fathers feel. It repeats in my head throughout every work day, stemming from a desire to be with my kids – possibly the coolest little girls I have ever known. It’s an exhausting joy to be with them.
As a result, I have passed on several opportunities for bigger money and job titles over the years. I don’t regret any of them. I don’t want that anymore and I don’t view that as a sacrifice. That part of me is different now. I sometimes wonder what people who knew the old me think of what I have become. I’m sure it looks odd, or maybe even sad, to some. I’d like to think that they would understand that I wouldn’t trade my life for anything and couldn’t be happier even during the most trying (but fleeting) times when I want toss my 4-year-old out a window.
The notion of having it “all” is really an exercise in perception. The high-powered job that demands 100-hour work weeks and “Father of the Year” may, in fact, be mutually exclusive. Or perhaps it’s just a secret recipe that I have yet to uncover. When you think about it, does anyone really want “all” that? It’s exhausting just thinking about it. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. I’d like to think that my slide on the scale inches toward active fatherhood.
As I sit with my daughter literally hanging on my head as I try to type, I take a minute to revel in my good fortune. I’ll have to differ with Esquire and say, yes, in fact I do have it all.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to eat another piece of cake.