Daddy’s BackJune 18, 2009 6 Comments
Next week I return to work after three blissful weeks of parental leave. Well, perhaps I should say three very full weeks (I’m not sure that nights with little sleep and days filled with constantly changing diapers constitute bliss). I am forever grateful to the Interaction Institute for Social Change for having such a humane parental leave policy, for a father no less. This is certainly not the standard in this country.
The flip side of my gratitude is the sadness that comes from needing to leave my two infant girls, and to leave my wife with her hands full. It is certainly much more than a full time job to raise three children, and considerably more to do it well. And I am sad to think of all the parents in this country who do not have anything approaching the kind of benefit we have at IISC, and hopeful that efforts to enact some kind of federal legislation will be successful.
In recent interviews with candidates to be a “mother’s helper” to support my wife Emily once I am back at work, we talked with a Brazilian woman who looked at Em mid-way through our conversation and said, “You American women are my heroes. You try to do everything. It’s too much.” That said a lot. We certainly seem to value productivity in this country, at times at the expense of our own health and that of our children. Often during conversations I’ve had with people of retirement age (meaning my parents’ generation) they will comment that they cannot imagine trying to raise kids in this day and age – it’s too expensive, the expectations are too high, we know/think too much about what could possibly go wrong. Above all, there is a common sentiment that there just seems to be less regard for the job of parenting. About this I feel the greatest sadness of all, and a resolve to do what I can to shift things.
As I get ready to get back in the saddle, I know I will be a different man when I return, a parent for the second (and third) time, and someone who now more than ever knows that the priority for me is family. And so I will carry the spirits of my little girls with me, to guide me in the work that needs to be done and that supports my family in the fullest way. And I am eager to hear suggestions and reactions from others about how to strike the balance. What is the connection between our efforts to make social change and a parent/child/family (however that might be defined)-supportive culture?
Congrats on the girls!
Congratulations, Curtis — and I really appreciate your thoughts. This is Susan, who was the grateful recipient of your and Julia’s teaching and facilitation as part od the Institute for Civic Leadership’s leadership intensive (our graduation was yesterday, btw!). I don’t know you every well, and didn’t know you-all were expecting babies, but one thing your post sparked for me was remembering the story of your wife being caught in the snowstorm and calling you from the highway near Boston, in a car that had not moved in like an hour(?) this past winter, when I think maybe you were up neat Bangor ME. You parlayed that experience into a “lesson” about listening, as we were learning skills in that area. I’ll always remember that.
As to life balance…altho I don’t have children, I was a child once, so think that qualifies me to pipe up w/opinion 🙂 My father structured his life, family, and profession in such a way that I believe had great balance. My father maintained friendships with other men he liked to play sports and go to games with, a great relationship with my mother, they together had (and have) an extreme robust social life, and relationships with us, as his family — as well as did something he loved (doctor, with part of his practice dedicated to indigent patients before people had insurance/medicare). I believe that the fact that my father modeled a well-rounded life has allowed me to do the same. My father structured it so there was loads of time spent with us the family doing things, going on long-weekend trips plus 2 weeks every summer, enlisting our help gardening and “doing jobs” around the house and yard, reading together, jaunts to NYC mid-week once a year, doing things with other families, Friday Night was game night for many years, spending every Sunday together as a family where we together made a huge brunch every single Sunday, hiked in different places, listened to music and read the NY Times (and whoever couldn’t read was playing while the others read) til we were teens–with areas of his life that did not in any way even involve us kids. Every Saturday night I can remember (and still the case) my parents would go out with other couples, or go to parties. Many Tuesday nights my parents would go out to dinner alone. Saturdays my father would do stuff with us and work around the house — but that was also the day he might go sailing with friends or play golf for half the day. Oh, also every night my parents had 1-hour just then for de-briefing and connecting over a glass of wine. We were not to come in because that was their time.
And as far as work, my father brought home work probably 2 dozen times that I can remember. Work was cool, he loved it, was good at it, we knew about it, but he left it at the office.
So, I know things are different now, but for the times (1970s) my father was quite involved with us, and at the same time his success at work, his strong romantic relationship with my mother, his own friendships and my parents’ social life, is almost as important to me looking back. His calm easy way and lack of angst around living his life, solidness and dependability in being a father (and I’m so grateful that he was never the kind of father who would over promise and under deliver, as I saw with other fathers and the havoc that wreaked on those kids) continue to be a model for all of us former kids!
btw…my mother also had a profession she loved, and she didn’t have so many of her own friends but was always on boards and civicly engaged. She also was a role model in balancing her life, my parents’ couple life, my parents’ social life, and out awesome family life.
Again, I know things are different now, but I guess what I’m saying is quality of time spent together goes far (as well as quantity). And as a bonus to our parents’ well-balanced lives (that did not always include us at every step, in every one of their experiences) we kids never felt like our parents needed to get a life beyond us (all the stress and baggage that gives kids) or that they were dependent on us for all their needs and outlets.
Congrats again — I look forward to reading more about your ongoing journey and insights!
Wow, Susan. Sounds like you had an incredible father, and one I would very much like to emulate. thank you for sharing your experience! Though it is a different time, the challenge I think is much the same as it was then. I like to think of it in some sense as the most noble fight I could undertake, to find a way to do good work in the world and be there in the fullest way for my family. I hear of social change agents who have sacrificed family for the sake of their cause, and I always cringe a bit, though in the larger scope of things I want to be careful not to judge – who am I to speak about someone else’s circumstances? And at the same time I do believe that there is great power in modeling the ability to be present in more than one area of one’s life. In any case, your comments give me hope going forward and I look forward to continued conversation through this medium and perhaps in person on a future trip north.
I was interested to read this article from our President on fatherhood. Sign me up! http://www.parade.com/export/sites/default/news/2009/06/barack-obama-we-need-fathers-to-step-up.html
Can’t wait to see you Curtis! And, I’m really loving the President’s role as “first Dad.”
Today I heard all of these interviews with people about fathers and I was thinking, “Wow, how serendipitous is this?!” Then I realized that Father’s Day is this weekend. Can you tell I’ve been on leave- what day is it?
In any case, very interesting interview on WBUR today with Jeremy Adam Smith, author of Daddy Shift, about how men change as a result of spending more active time raising their children. We’re not just talking social/emotional but actual physiological changes. For a listen check out http://www.hereandnow.org/2009/06/rundown-619/.