by Andrew Sarno, father of two, Brooklyn
I recently attended my dad's retirement party in late August. It was filled with people paying tribute to my dad by telling old stories and blessing his retirement from carpentry. When the last of the cake had been eaten we went down to my dad’s workshop, two stories below street level, to grab his things. As we entered the room the smell of pine and stale coffee hit me hard and my head was filled with dozens of memories. I had not been in this room in about fifteen years, but from what I could tell not much had changed.
As my dad stuffed a few last things into a canvas bag he pointed out a cork board behind me. To my surprise it was covered with pictures of my brother and me from elementary school all the way up to my high school graduation. I was shocked by all of the pictures and when I turned to look back at my dad he was glowing with pride. He told me it was his “shrine” to us. I was overcome by a mix of both sadness and joy. Like my dad had done so many times before, he reaffirmed how hard he worked for us, but that corkboard shrine also reminded me of how much time he had sacrificed.
Now that I’m a father to a three-year-old son and a two-year-old girl, I can fully appreciate what a parent works so hard for -- his or her children. I know my dad worked so hard because he wanted me to have more opportunities than he did growing up, the same way I want to give my kids the world. These opportunities obviously come at a major cost: time. I am a working dad and I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with my kids. One day, while feeling low during my lunch break, I calculated that I spend about 7-10 less hours a week with my kids than I do at my office and on the subway.
Spending more time at work than with my children hurts me deeply. I feel like I am in a way repeating my dad’s scenario by working five days a week just like he did when he was in my position. The difference though between me and my dad is that I think I am more aware of my absence than he was. Here are some things I’ve learned to help me stay centered and connected to my children:
I also think that for some people their career is their identity and that is challenged when they become a parent. For parents, no matter how big the project or important the meeting, if their kid gets sick, the world stops, and that is just the reality of being a parent. One of the toughest, but most freeing things about becoming a parent for me was that I am not longer a priority, my children are. I struggle every day with the idea of working for my family, but also wanting to be more present in my children’s lives. Making peace with this balance is not something I profess to have all figured out, but I am on my way to better dealing with it, that is, until my retirement.
For now I will continue to dream of the day where I can break this cycle and become a bigger part of their daily lives and hopefully to have a more profound impact. For now, this may be just a dream, but all great ideas start with a dream. I’ve asked my dad if he wished he could have been there with me more when we were kids and the answer is always yes, but it’s immediately followed by a discussion about a vacation we went on or the good schools I went to, with an underlying sadness in his voice. I too find myself rationalizing my absence as well, but I hold on to the hope that I will find another way.
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