I know that I miss much of what goes on in the lives of my kids. As a working dad, it’s one of the things that weighs on me the most. Fact is, there’s nothing I enjoy more than being with my kids. After working a long day, I can’t wait to get home — only to be tackled by the kids as I walk in the front door. There is simply nothing better than that. And while I make a point of attending the bigger events in their lives: school plays, soccer games and music recitals — even when they conflict with my work — I still sweat the small stuff. I know I miss a million little things that happen to my kids in their day-to-day lives.
When I was growing up, fathers were more likely to be working or out on the golf course than at home with their kids. I never wanted to be like that. I wanted to be present. Available. Connected with my children in real and meaningful ways. I wanted to be part of their lives in the ways my own father wasn’t. I’m not alone. The stereotypical machismo Dad is a bit of a anachronism nowadays. And that’s a good thing. Sure, there are still many examples of “old world” dads alive and well in the world. But most of us want to be more than that.
I think of Max Schireson, the former CEO of the software company MongoDB who caused quite a stir in July when he announced he was stepping down from his dream job to spend more time with his kids. In the old days of fatherhood, the “spending more time with family” excuse was usually a euphemism for being relieved of your position. But, in this instance, Schireson deliberately chose his family over his work. This made headline news.
Schireson said it this way: “Life is about choices. Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday? Maybe. Right now, I choose to spend more time with my family and am confident that I can continue to have an meaningful and rewarding work life while doing so.” Schireson told The Today Show, “I hope that me telling this story in my position will help others feel more comfortable in making similar choices.”
In his reality, Schireson faced the possibility of losing tens of millions of dollars when making the decision to stay home. Most of us don’t have those kinds of prospects to miss out on. Some men would even lose their shirts or the roof over their heads over such a decision. For others it would simply mean their wives would have to work full time or maybe even more than one job. I personally would never actually consider leaving my job. Even if it were financially possible to stay at home, I just wouldn’t — I love my job and have always been very driven in my career. But it doesn’t mean spending time with my children is much more than an obligation to me. It’s something I relish. It’s not possible to do it all — so what has gone by the wayside in my own life? For me, it has been being social. I tend to spend less time with my close friends, because I value spending time with my children much more than playing a five hour round of golf on a Saturday.
But alas, juggling work and kids, finding enough time to spend with my kids, balancing long hours at work with enough quality time with my daughters isn’t just all about me. All the thinking about what kind of dad I want to be and the various choices I make would not be possible if my wife wasn’t able to be at home with the children. She has sacrificed parts of herself as well, of course. My wife is amazing — and does an admirable job being my daughters’ chauffeur to school and back, to their after school activities, doctor’s appointments and, in addition, making dinner for the family. I tell myself as a dad that what’s important isn’t quantity of time with my kids, it’s quality. But then I think of my wife. She’s in it for the quantity every day.
I’m sure sometimes she’d feel if she had a little less responsibility with the kids she’d have my attitude of quality over quantity as well. In recent years, I’ve taken on more kitchen duties and have been involved in bedtime routines to help her. I do the shopping (which I like, by the way), fold the laundry and take out the trash. I feel a little foolish even putting these words on paper — let alone admitting it to all of you. This is how I’ve tried to make things easier for her.
The fact is, each generation has its own ideas of what is progressive parenting and progressive marriage. At this point in my life as a husband and father, I can see that we all do our best. I feel badly sometimes when I think of how I’ve judged my father for being absent; gone fishing, working long hours or wherever. When I weigh my own life as a parent against the ideals I had set up in my imagination, I fall short too. In what ways can I do better? Hundreds probably. Thousands. None of us are perfect. One thing I’ve realized in the past few years: when I’m home I need to BE with my kids.I stay off my computer, put down my phone, stay away from the iPad. Not all of us can or want to step down from our jobs to devote our lives to being at home. But be it an hour, a day or even over the course of just 15 minutes, taking time to really connect with our kids and be there for them is what really matters.