June 02, 2010

Dad's Most Important Job

The childhood my children are experiencing is different from mine and that is ok. Different doesn't have to be defined as a value judgment . It doesn't have to be seen as better versus worse. Not everything is equal, but different isn't always a measure of two similar objects.

It is not hard to list the differences. They attend a private school. I went to a public school. They are driven to and from school. I walked both ways in whatever weather we had. Of course it being Los Angeles I never did walk uphill in the snow, but I did experience some pretty heavy rainfall.

There are all sorts of comparisons that I can make between now and then, but there is really one that sticks in my craw. My father worked in civil service. In my life he had but one employer, different positions, but one employer. Worked for them for 38 years and then retired. Actually, that is not true, he also worked part time as a professor at a community college. Unless I am mistaken he did that for about 20 years or so.

That is not the world that my children are growing up in. Their father didn't hold down one position for their entire life. Their father has had a number of different jobs. The father they know doesn't wake up early in the morning and drive downtown and return just before dinner.

It used to bother me. I couldn't help but compare myself to my father and wonder how it was that he managed to spend 38 years in the same place. Couldn't help but look at myself and wonder why my experience was peppered with three years here, seven years there and two more over there. It felt a bit like I had failed.

But over time I came to accept that the world is different now. People really don't spend their entire career with one company. Still, I found myself thinking about some of the other differences between my father and I. Because when I think about my childhood I don't remember my father bringing work home with him. I don't remember being shushed so that he could finish a conference call or finish some project.

I didn't have to compete with a Blackberry or laptop. That is not something that I can relate to from a child's perspective.

But my children know it, live it and I hope understand it. Because I have taken a different career path than my father. I have worked with start ups and run the gauntlet in more of an entrepreneurial fashion. I haven't worked out of a standard office since my daughter was an infant.

She doesn't remember the days I'd put on a suit and tie. She doesn't remember that I'd call home and let mom know how much traffic there was. All she remembers is the father who works around the clock from home. All she knows is that her daddy has lots of jobs. I know this, because I have heard her talk about it.

The other day her brother came to me and asked me to list all of my jobs. So I ran down the list of companies that receive an invoice from me for work done. I didn't explain to him what it means to do freelance work or what it means to be a consultant. He doesn't really need to know that.

He looked up at me and asked me if I ever had time to play. I smiled and told him that I did, reminded him about the Monopoly game we played yesterday and how we wrestled. He said that he remembered that, but that he thought that I was always working. I sighed deeply, some of what he says is true. I am constantly connected, Blackberry or laptop close at hand. For the time being that can't be helped, got to push hard now.

And then he asked me to tell him about my most important job. I asked him why and he told me that if I prioritized things I might be able to get rid of a job and have more time. That made me smile again. I grabbed him and pulled him close and whispered that being his dad is the most important job that I have.

I don't think that he liked my answer. He was really hoping that he could help me eliminate something so that I would have more time to play with him. Later after he went to bed I thought about it some more. I am busy, but they have me more than they realize.

My father had a regular schedule, but he didn't show up at school as often as I do. He came to the important events, but didn't hit the optional performances the way that I do. He didn't work early in the morning or late at night the way that I sometimes do. But he didn't find an hour in the middle of the afternoon that he could use to take my sisters and I out.

The point of this is simple. I can't compare myself to my father or my childhood to the kids. They are different. All I can do is continue to try to do right by them. All I can do is continue to work hard for them and hope that we get it right. The hard part is that you can't see the results of parenting until a number of years have passed.

It is a crazy thing, this parenting gig. I can't help but think of that line from Superchicken, "You knew that the job was dangerous when you took it." Well... I suppose that I did.

6 comments:

V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios said...

I had a SAHM and a dad who worked regular hours. They were warm and loving but they never thought their job was to play with me. My mom worked all day doing laundry, ironing, cleaning, handwashing all the dishes, cooking from scratch, baking, tending the vegetable garden, keeping everything spic and span. When my father came home from work, he always had a project: the garden, building something, fixing what was broken, working on the car, pruning trees and bushes, finishing the basement, grocery shopping. My dad sold his vacation days back to his employers; he never took time off. Family recreation consisted of a picnic, a day at the beach, or a visit to see local relatives.

I hear all the time how modern parents are "too busy," and I personally think it's B.S. Parents throughout history have always been BUSY. It's the nature of running a household and supporting a family, whether you're a man or a woman, whether you work in an office or at home. It's only been in the last 25 years or so that parents doing what parents do has been considered a "social problem." Parents spend too much time feeling guilty for doing what is NECESSARY to support the life styles their kids enjoy. I do remember as a kid wishing my parents didn't have to work so hard, but I also learned to appreciate their work ethic and the fact that while they were busy, they were always THERE. I don't promote ignoring children, but hey, if they want to spend more time with you, they can join you on errands, help you cook dinner, lend a hand with the yardwork, chat with you while you're folding laundry or cleaning the kitchen.

The JackB said...

I don't disagree with anything you have said here. Sometimes it is hard to reconcile it all, but we do what we have to do.

And my children are indeed lucky enough to join us on errands. While they are young it is just one of those things that they have to do. ;)

I also think that it is natural to question how we are doing things and to romanticize the past. We don't always remember how things really were.

millermix said...

I so get this. My mother raised 3 kids alone while going back to school, working multiple jobs at once, and making sure the one with a chronic illness never missed a doc appointment. Here I am with my cushy work-from-home job with a partner who brings home a good salary and my kids are both happy and well taken care of by someone other than me most days.

It's easy to think I don't measure up, but then I think about how my mom did it that way because she had to and how I never remember her smiling or laughing. My kids may not have this role model of supreme strength and gritty determination, but they have ME. Whenever they need me and with my whole heart.

That's enough.

john cave osborne said...

being a father is your most important job. and one day your kids will realize that you weren't just feeding them a line. i, too, have a different deal than my mild manner professor parents had. i, too, work in various capacities and slide fatherhood in between nooks and crannies of those various capacities.

and you know what? all in all, it's a pretty good gig, no? unlike you, i don't speak Hebrew, and could never eavesdrop on pretty, giggling little girls if they suddenly switched languages on me!

The JackB said...

Ah, but you could speak Hebrew or any other language you want. Just takes a little time to learn and you'll be good to go. The world is a different place when you speak different languages. You express yourself differently.

The JackB said...

Who says that they don't see you as a role model of supreme strength and gritty determination. they might. But sometimes it is more important how we see ourselves as that impacts the kids.