Guest Post: Observations of a Working Dad

This guest post is written by the incredible husband of yours truly and can I just say, he is the best man I know. Check out his perspectives on being a working dad and what he thinks about stay-at-home parents too. This guy is a class act.

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A few years ago, Anne Marie Slaughter’s engaging article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” sparked an extensive discussion about the scope and degree of professional success women could achieve without sacrificing their commitment to family.  Many who were critical of the article, myself among them, nonetheless agreed with Slaughter’s central premise that women have for far too long been denied the kind of professional advancement available to men.  And that much more needs to done to open those doors.  But what us critics disliked was Slaughter’s implicit assumption that it was only women who desired the appropriate (and ever elusive) “work/life balance.”  She scrapped the stereotype of the homemaker mother only by reinforcing that of the distant and career-devoted working dad.  I’m not going to rehash that debate here—though I think it’s an important one that has continuing ramifications in public policy and private enterprise.

J and A 4

I’d simply like to make some observations about parenting from the perspective of a working dad.  A working dad who yearns to more often snuggle his sweet baby girl as she wakes up in early morning, read to her as she drifts off to sleep at night, bathe her and play with her and laugh alongside her.  And yet a working dad whose chosen profession makes many of those yearnings unfulfillable.  That’s not necessarily a bad a thing.  On this, Slaughter and I are in complete agreement: because of a set of deeply engrained cultural expectations, no one, man or woman, can rise to the top of American industry and at the same time show up to every after school dance recital, Saturday soccer game, and weekend swim meet, not to mention supply the innumerable intangibles that it takes to be an engaged parent.  In short, no one can have it all.  This has been a hotly resisted but inevitable conclusion I’ve drawn since joining the workforce and parent-force simultaneously.  It’s not new, but now it’s mine—my very first observation about parenting: it’s hard trying to excel at both fatherhood and work.

J and A 3

Jolting though it was, that’s not the observation that most surprised me upon entering parenthood.  What most surprised me was how exhausting it is to be a stay-at-home parent.  This one is a true observation; I’ve had no first-hand experience at this (which I’m confident is largely the reason our sweet daughter is turning out so well).  I’ve gained a new respect for moms and dads who’ve taken on these ’round the clock parenting duties—and somehow managed to stay enamored by their little ones’ every new discovery.  While I haven’t been there, I get a glimpse into this world each Saturday morning when I hang out with Ainsley so her mother can make some headway on the aggregated sleep lost the prior week.  After this mere half a day, I’m always stunned by how demanding and disorienting full-time, complete responsibility for another’s life is.  And as much as I dislike my work some days, I honestly don’t envy the always-on-call, never-get-a-break rhythm of stay-at-home parenting.  I don’t think I could do it.  And so I often watch in awe and amazement, baffled by the combination of her acquired insight and motherly instinct, as my incredible wife identifies and satisfies all our daughter’s needs.  I have no clue how she does it.  She is truly unbelievable.  This was my second observation: stay-at-home parenting takes a rare combination of patience, fortitude, persistence, humor, diligence, and an endless supply of love.  I’m convinced those who do it are super-human.

A and J

My third observation is more prosaic.  But it’s one that only those with the unique vantage point of a working parent can make, perched where we are between the frantic attempt to balance personal and professional success and the recognition that we could never do what our super-hero spouses do at home all day.  This last observation is the surprising rapidity and consistency of Ainsley’s development.  It’s something that you just can’t pick up on when your days are consumed with constant changing, feeding, burping, holding, both wiping tears and shedding them, and so much more that stay-at-home parents miraculously accomplish each day.  But I see it; I see the almost-imperceptible trends of growth hiding beyond the seemingly random array of noises, movements, and discoveries.  I see the gradual yet linear development in Ainsley’s pre-verbal communication, hand-eye coordination, head- and body-control, and much more.  And I see how quickly it goes, in real time.  Understandably, days at home can drag on for my wife.  The little things consume her time.  When Ang was pregnant we were once told that when we became parents the days would drag and the weeks would fly by.  That’s the perfect way of putting it.  Except that the working parent sees more of the flying and less of the dragging.  And boy is it fast.  We try to cherish each moment, but it seems that by the time we catch our breath, Ainsley is on to the next stage, discovering new facets of being a tiny human.

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These three observations—that a sustainable work/life balance is hard (read: impossible), that stay-at-home parenting is harder, and that infant development is both rapid and consistent—likely seem commonplace to veteran parents.  After all, none of them are particularly novel.  In fact, they’re fairly predictable.  But they have, nonetheless, shaped the way I approach both parenting and work.  And for me there is value in pausing to make these observations.  And pausing to consider their implications.  It might follow from these observations, for example, that I need to let go of some of the sweeping ambition that has hung around from my single or young-married days.  Or maybe I need to give up some of my (vanishingly scarce) personal time to study more intently my daughter and her needs.  These observations remind me that she’s worth it.  She’s worth any sacrifice, any dampening of ambition, any changing of plans, any expending of energy.  She’s worth anything.  Because she’ll only be my cuddly, tiny, adorable little baby for so much longer.  And that’s something I need to cherish.  Life’s too short for it to be about anything other than investing in the ones we love.

J and A 5

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