It’s been nearly two years now since I started being home more for the kids. So a good time to check-in and see if it was the “right” move. Right?
Well, I found out last night. And it wasn’t the answer I expected.
You see, Jaedon and I had swung by the beach near our place yesterday to catch up with an ex-kindergarten pal of his. The pal was there with his dad to have an impromptu camp-over on a cool and breezy Saturday evening. Just the two of them for a bit of father-son bonding, as mommy was away. Good timing too, given that there weren’t many people out and about, and not as many fellow campers either, given everyone’s reluctance to be in public places during these uncertain Covid-19 virus days we live in.
Jaedon played a bit of frisbee with his pal, while his dad and I chatted. Well not really chatted since the conversation was pretty one-sided. I was feeling tired then and not much into conversation. I wasn’t even that keen to swing over in the first place. But since that daddy contacted us, knowing we live close by, I thought the polite thing for me to do was to oblige. It had after all been a while since we last met.
During the chat, the father shared with me that he had found a new job, one that will pay a whole lot more than what he’s currently getting, but one where the office is located on the opposite end of the country from where he lives, and one which will require a lot of traveling overseas. He claimed he will be able to decide where to go and how often, since he reports directly to the CEO (who happened to be his ex-wife’s friend).
I did what’s usually expected when such news are shared: I congratulated him.
However, I wasn’t feeling at all congratulatory. In fact, two opposing thoughts came to mind when I heard this latest development in his life. One was that it’s going to distance him even further from his only child and there’ll be less opportunities to connect like the camp-over now underway. And two, that absence will make the heart grow fonder and things will work out somehow. Why not right? So many fathers my age are in highly stressful and demanding jobs; jobs that demand they travel and disappear for days on end from their love ones. But their families are still intact and their children still turn out fine, no?
I’m not sure which thought is right on the button, but I do know one thing. It made me ask THE question after Jaedon and I said our goodbyes and left his pal and daddy to their camping. We were making our way slowly back to the car. The night was getting late and the weather was turning to be a whole lot chillier than I expected. Didn’t help that I was wearing a thin singlet, plus shorts and slippers.
What transpired next made the night turn even chillier.
“So son, if one day I was going to be like your pal’s dad. You know, find a high-paying job which requires me to travel far and often, would you mind? After all, right now your daddy is a stay at home daddy, one who’s with you and Caleb nearly 24/7. Except of course when you are in school. Would you miss me and not want me to take that job?
I waited and fully expected him to say, yah I like having daddy around so much now. Don’t take that job.
Instead, all he said was: “Daddy, it’s really up to you.”
I think I nearly froze in my tracks, though I managed to recover in time so he didn’t notice. I certainly wasn’t expecting that answer at all! Trying to sound nonchalant even though my heart had sunk by then to the sandy beach beneath us, I asked him in as matter-a-fact of a voice as I could summon, to elaborate on what he meant.
“Well, you know it’s nice to have you around Daddy, but if it’s something you want to do, then you should do it.”
And there you have it. Two years of concentrated time invested into the lives of my sons, and this is the thanks I get! I didn’t know whether to shed a sorrowful tear or burst into bitter laughter. On the one hand, I love that his answer showed that he wasn’t thinking only of his own needs. He wanted what he thought would meet my needs, and what pleases me. That showed a level of maturity I’ve started to notice in my boy since he turned ten, one that still amazes me now as he turns 11. I’ve come to appreciate this boy very much so I know his answers are thoughtful and measured. This answer was certainly one of those.
But it wasn’t what I wanted to hear yesterday. I wanted to be affirmed. I wanted to know that my sacrifice wasn’t for naught. That I had made the better daddy decision than all the other daddies in the world; certainly better than the decision that daddy we just met had shared.
Suddenly I didn’t feel so sure of myself anymore. What if I was wrong all along? What if the silent naysayers around me were right? Those who secretly balk at the idea that a man like me, who didn’t earn all that much in the first place, and who was married to a wife who also wasn’t earning big bucks, would do so risky a thing as to quit his stable job and tend to the family full-time.
And does it really make a big difference in the end? Me staying home full time for my kids? I know of friends who are good men who talk about the important values of family and raising children well, and how they subscribe fully to those values, even applauding me for making the move I did. These men however spend more time on their career than with their family, yet I don’t exactly hear about their kids going astray or falling apart. They carve out quality time with their families and make those moments count. Couldn’t I have done that too? Why the drastic move two years ago to stay home full-time?
I suddenly felt like I should return to my old workplace and beg them for my job back. Why be at home if my presence made no difference? Why not go back to a place where I might be more appreciated.
Thankfully, I calmed down a bit better on the drive home, doing my best to put those thoughts behind me. After all, I don’t really think I was going anywhere in my last job anyway, and I doubt that they appreciated me all that much either. Plus, I didn’t want my son to know that his honest answer had unsettled me so.
I just know that these two years have come and gone already. So for what it’s worth, I can’t dwell on their passing anymore. I can only manage what lies ahead and give the next two years and beyond some more careful and considered thought. Hopefully in due course, some answer will emerge that will give me back the sense of assurance I so desperately seek. That I so desperately need.
An assurance that I have value and worth, no matter what decision I make for myself, for my family, for my career.
I hope I will find the assurance soon though, and not wait another two years!