Yesterday wore me out. For the past year and a half, I’d been one of the lucky few who gets to work from home full-time. This week my new employer was running on all cylinders, and I was right in the thick of it – my first real day on the job, trying to learn people’s names, departments, databases, processes, procedures, even the dress code. (I reallllly need a haircut. And pants. That’s what happens when you get used to wearing shorts and baseball caps to work every day.) And then there was the small matter of familiarizing myself with my new company’s product line – genetic analysis devices that perform DNA sequencing via capillary electrophoresis. By the end of the day, my brain hurt. I was tired, hungry, and more than a little moody, a particular strain of the Monday Blues that I’d prepared myself for, one that still managed to work its way down into my guts.
Only in the early 21st century could a guy land a decent, well-paying job during a recession and still feel like he’d failed his family on some level.
Here’s the thing: I was by no means a great At-Home Dad, but I was pretty good at it. I managed to weave my responsibilities to my employers, my writing, and my family into a fairly tight tarp that covered all of the bases. I’d be up at 6:00, working until the kids woke up, then I’d get them fed and dressed, up and out of the house to school. I’d charge through the rest of the day, and when that afternoon bell rang I’d pick ’em up, get ’em snacked (we use this as a verb: “The kids are hungry.” “Snack ’em.”), and wrap up my doings just in time to help the boy with his homework and the girl with her dolls (my inability to dress myself has not affected my ability to pick out stylish, matching outfits for Barbie and Skipper, and I can put clothes on dolls like a Navy SEAL assembling his weapon — blindfolded and underwater). And then I’d bust out a homecooked meal, and after all that, get the kids bathed, read ’em a story, put ’em to bed, and jump back on the computer to write some more. Better still, my wife and I functioned as a team, switching duties as needed, relieving each other when one kid got too testy or goofy. Trying to maintain order is but one of many ways parents express their love for their kids, and by that measurement, ours knew no bounds. Shit got done.
That moodiness I felt yesterday didn’t come from fear that things would fall apart because I wasn’t at home to help out – we are both battle-scarred veterans, and have been trained to operate individually as well as a team. No, it came from the fact that for now, at least, I’m saying goodbye to a guy I enjoyed being. I won’t lie to you – there is something satisfying about working in a office. One feels so … grown up. But as you and the kids grow older, you become painfully aware of the relentless persistence of time, and the things you miss by being elsewhere. Like I said, I’ve been lucky — I got to experience what many dads miss out on. My family’s been lucky as well.
So, what does any of this have to do with well-regarded author Michael Chabon, who penned the excellent, award-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union? Chabon is also a work-from-home dad. He’s married to writer Ayelet Waldman. CNN dredged up this old article she wrote about her husband being at home with the kids, and…well, you read it. I can’t really muster up too much sympathy for her “plight.”