The clock ticks over to tomorrow as I cross into Connecticut, the frenetic congestion of New York City an unpleasant memory in my rear-view mirror. I’ve got slightly less than half a tank of gas left, enough to make home with plenty of fumes remaining to get to the gas station down the hill in the morning. This morning. Daytime. Things get so confusing when you don’t sleep.
I’ve become intimately familiar with the I-95 corridors and the cities which surround its unyielding concrete surface. This isn’t the first time I’ve made the drive from Washington, D.C. to New England, nor will it be the last. Since the fall, I’ve been making the drive twice a week. It’s been necessary because I work down south and have family obligations up north, and I’m very lucky that, given my situation, work allows me to work half of the time from home.
Let me crunch some numbers to give you a rough idea about what this is like. Since my new job started, I’ve spent about 672 hours in the car and driven approximately 44,800 miles.
672 hours. That’s 28 days. About a full month’s worth of living stuck behind the wheel of my car.
And the worst part of it, the worst, is that for those three days when I am away from home, I am not only away from my wife, but I am also away from my four-year-old son.
How did this happen?
Men work. It doesn’t matter how society changes, or whether an economy shifts from manufacturing to service to knowledge. The fact is that men need to find something to do to stave off our insatiable drive for self-destruction. If you’re not doing anything with your life, they why live it?
Through a circuitous path, I became an attorney shortly to be laid off from my firm: There had been cuts made and I was informed that my head was next on the chopping block. Never mind that I didn’t particularly like what I was doing; it was a job, and my colleagues were fantastic people.
The writing had been on the wall for a while, and my boss was honest with me from day one, something I respected. In a burst of strategic thinking, I went back to school for my MBA and got yet another degree, figuring it would make me more competitive and up my job prospects. And wouldn’t you know it, it worked. An interested organization enthusiastically courted and hired me.
An enthusiastic organization 400 miles from home.
I took the job, of course. I needed it too much. A man has to provide for his family, after all, and if you think that sounds too regressive and patriarchal, the “back” button is up there.
The job was still in the legal profession, but it didn’t matter that the law wasn’t my first choice of work. I’ve learned to get good at it; good enough to find a better situation. It’s good work with good pay and good people. I can’t complain about how things turned out.
Except for this whole driving thing.
* * *
Boys need their fathers. I know, all children do, but the need is especially acute in young males. Whether it pertains to behavior, educational prospects, church attendance, rates of criminality, or future economic success, fathers are the most important influence in their sons’ lives. Me, I’m only around for slightly more than half of my son’s. Four days out of the week. Fifty-seven percent.
I’m not divorced; I’m not even separated. In fact, I’m happily married. Yet I maintain a separate apartment in the D.C. metro area. The idea was to sell our house quickly and have the family move down. But life got in the way.
I won’t go into details, but let’s just say things are grim. There’s a pall over everything I do, guilt over not being there to help out with the family and the kid. But more than just looking after the little guy, I want to be there for him.
Fathers reading this, I have some questions for you. Every night when you put your kid to bed, do they ask if you will be there tomorrow? Do they fear going anywhere without you? Does every morning begin with, “Will you stay and play with me?”
I would say it’s heartbreaking, but the word doesn’t hurt enough.
* * *
Life is all about choices. Men, I am telling you, make sure you are financially secure before you have children. If that means waiting until you are a bit older to marry, marrying a younger woman who wants to have kids, then so be it. Don’t waste your time with women who don’t want children. Women, the same goes for you too.
Why should you listen to me? Because I married someone who was on the same page as me when it came to kids. It continues to work out great, and I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, I still hadn’t established myself career-wise and now I’m paying the price.
Choices. One poor choice can ripple out into being split apart from your family.
“It’s not that bad,” I tell myself. “It’s good money. It’s temporary.”
“Temporary” has so far lasted over six months. “Temporary” shows no sign of letting up anytime soon. “Temporary” has separated me from my family for almost half of my waking hours.
So when I’m with my little guy, I pack as much into those four days as I can. We play Legos. We go to the lake or to the playground. We race go-karts or go out for breakfast. We go for walks up and down our street, counting the numbers on the mailboxes. And I try to talk to him and impart as much wisdom as I can offer into his beautiful little brain.
Because I know, for those next three days, we’ll both have an aching hole in our hearts, hearts which will only be fifty-seven percent complete.
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