John Scalzi has observed that “in the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.” I don’t dispute this claim; in fact, I agree with it completely. Which makes it all the more humbling to admit that, even on this easiest setting, I have often failed to get the fatherhood and career balancing act right.
It would be easy to assign part of the blame for my failure to the church. After all, it has defined the primary reason for my existence as being the provider, the bacon bringer-homer, the winner of bread.
If the wolf is going to be kept away from the door of the home, the man is going to be the one who does it. So, when you work in a field where you are encouraged to stack up billable hours, and when your kids always need new shoes or orthodontia, and when the transmission needs an overhaul, and when new countertops move from the category of “nice to have” to something like a necessity, well, it’s easy to justify 70 hour weeks at the office. It’s like crack cocaine, or so I’ve heard, the second and third times get even easier to rationalize.
And the next thing you know, you haven’t had dinner with your family for two months, you’ve missed recitals and track meets and tickle fights at bedtime, and your family life is on autopilot. I have done this so many times it is embarrassing.
But the church also clearly conveys another message, one that calls men to be more involved in the lives of their children. It seems odd to have to acknowledge this, but that is a message I had to learn to hear. I love my kids, and I love to be around them. But since they are such good kids, it’s been easy to assume that my occasional lack of involvement hasn’t mattered. It is so ridiculously easy to think that I am showing my love for them by earning money and providing for their current and future needs. Earning a living is important, it cannot be neglected, but being a good father requires more than that. So I am very grateful for consistent messages which tell me that my presence in the lives of my children is even more important.
Has anybody ever heard women talk about quality time vs. quantity time? I don’t think I ever have. That particular conversation comes from a position of such unconscious privilege that I can only imagine women rolling their eyes as they prepare yet another meal or drive yet another kid to saxophone rehearsal or soccer practice. Quality time is a clever cop-out, used almost exclusively by guys who want to make excuses for failing to do the hard work of connecting with their children. Teenagers can be baffling and incredibly difficult. Their brains are fully capable of “forgetting” about an important homework assignment until 8:45 p.m. on the evening before it is due. Our definition of quality time needs to expand to include those hours between 8:45 and whenever it gets done. Those hours not only give us the chance to follow Jesus and practice the virtues of patience and charity, but, just as importantly, we get to emulate Cool Hand Luke, and exemplify grace under pressure. Bill Cosby said that the job of a dad is to sit tall in the saddle, smile, and overlook a lot. We can’t just show up for an hour a week and expect to be respected. We need to be there through the good and bad, thick and thin, silly times and serious times. One of my friends works as a family therapist, and he knows some heartbreaking stories about dads who literally don’t know what to say or do when they have five minutes alone with a daughter or son.
My own father worked two jobs for as long as I can remember. Fortunately, both jobs were within two miles of our house, so he was almost always home for breakfast and dinner. When I was chosen to be a pitcher on my baseball team, he took a week off from his second job to help me work, every afternoon, on my curveball and breaking pitch. When I had tennis matches, I hardly every saw him in the bleachers, but sometime during the afternoon, I’d usually notice his car roll into the parking lot. He would park where he could watch from the front seat of his car, through the chain link fence. He slipped away from his job, if only for a few minutes on his break, and yet those few minutes meant the world to me. On Saturdays, he always made breakfast for the family, then took several kids with him as he ran errands and did chores. I will always love him for these things. His example, more than anything else, has helped me maintain whatever uneasy equilibrium I have achieved in the fatherhood/career tightrope act.
-Submitted by Mark Brown