It would be dishonest to claim I sacrificed my career for my kids.
I was taking on water at work long before they were born. But maybe I would have broken out of my malaise, found something more demanding, finally reached my potential, had I been more like my doctor father who barely saw me when I was a child.
When my wife bathes our two young boys, she scrunches them together in our small tub and then rushes them out of the water like they were fleeing Pharaoh. I, however, give them their choice of bath or shower and let them go in one at a time and even indulge them when they ask to dump a bucket of suds over my head.
Yet after I’ve changed out of my wet clothes and we give them the choice of who they want to put them to bed, they always pick Jen.
“You don’t want Daddy today?” I ask.
“Mommy and daddy,” my oldest says, but it’s more a clever rejoinder than an honest invite.
The kids invent a game called “Dada Back,” where we go outside on muggy summer afternoons and I run madly around the backyard with a weighty boy up on my shoulders while the other one chases after us. It feels like I’m undergoing some ancient version of a cardiac stress test.
When we’re done, I drag myself inside and they run right for Jen who’s drinking iced tea from a straw and catching up on her magazines.
“I love you a billion trillion billion much,” my five-year-old puppy dogs to Jen.
“I love you a billion trillion billion much, too,” my three-year-old pipes in.
“What about Daddy?” I groan from the rug.
Eventually the older one comes over and gives me a pity hug and the three-year-old joins in.
“Wait until the next developmental stage,” people keep telling me, “you’re going to be their hero.”
Frankly I don’t want to be some phony hero. I’d topple myself. And I don’t want to wait. I want to think of my relationship with my boys and say to myself: sure, you’ve failed in so many other places, but you’ve succeeded here.
So I’ll never have the pull of a mother, I now realize, regardless of what I do. But I’ve started to think I would be more of a presence to my boys if I wasn’t actually so present in their lives, if I were distant, if my love for them was not such a given, if I was gruff, if I had a meaty job that inspired respect.
I have great kids and wouldn’t change a thing. But sometimes, reflecting on our interactions, I second guess the impact of my work-from-home role on our relationships, and it leaves me wondering: maybe I’m doing it all wrong?