You Can’t Have It All

One of the things I’m actually able to do for a short time each night with the kids gone is to actually read the gigantic stack of magazines and publications that I’ve been getting but have no ability to read on my daily parental routine.  I actually jumped, for whatever reason, to the top of the stack and read the most recent copy of The Atlantic.

The cover story, by Anne-Marie Slaughter, is pretty obvious in its tenner – “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”  I read it, mainly because I somehow think I can relate to the struggle, at least from the parenting end, of the working mother.  I understand the pull of home, the thoughts that your kids are having to survive and you’re relying on your oldest child to act more responsible than you were at the same age.  You want your kids to turn out well even though you know damn well that there’s nobody at home to stimulate them and be available to them when they need it 24/7.  I thought, maybe, just perhaps, this woman would have some words of wisdom or thoughts about what makes life so hard and what her epiphany was.

I was sorely disappointed.

Now, before each and every one of my female friends and feminist colleagues comes to me trying to berate my statement up there, I have to tell you that I agree with so many of the statements about what is wrong in life and the workplace.  Women who are qualified and intelligent should have the same opportunities, input, and pay as any man.  In fact, I have met a number of women who have surpassed the knowledge of their predecessors and are far better employees and managers than those who aren’t.  I’ve also met just as many unqualified women who are in over their heads as men.  I think qualifications and intelligence, along with the ability to manage well should be the key qualifications, not whether or not you’re cheapest, wear pants, wear a skirt, or your skin is white, plaid, green or blue.

But I’m digressing.  I had heard of Slaughter, unlike many people I’ve spoken with in my sphere of influence.  (It’s also disappointing the people who know so little about our Federal Government)  I had a twinge of leanings toward this woman because she shares a first name with one of my best friends in the whole world.  I thought, perhaps, a person who is part of the policy-making machine and responsible for being in the political machinations might have some insight as to what life is like as a strong working parent and what it means to be so away from your kids all the time.

Instead, the message I got from her article – and maybe this is just because I’m a man, I get that – is that she’s totally disconnected from the real world.  Her complaints and the cynicism and criticisms that she levied against the country, the government and herself have no basis in actual reality.  This is a woman who worked for one of the most prestigious universities in the country as a professor.  She left that – on sabbatical, by the way, not because she quit, so she gets that job back! – to go become a part of the crew working for Hillary Clinton.  She gets to help make foreign policy for our country.  Then . . . she complains about how she worked 80 hours a week and had to commute to see her family and how she got occasional phone calls about how her kids had emergencies . . . oh yeah, by the way, her husband stayed with the kids, juggled his work schedule and managed to take care of the kids and the family emergencies 99% of the time.

I also got the impression he didn’t complain much and took care of business most of the time.

So she says women can’t have it all, because she had to decide either to be a massive, powerful figure in the federal government . . . OR she has to swallow her pride and go back to being a six-figure, well-respected professor at a major university and also goes on the road and gives speeches and writes books and gives commencement speeches and talks to young women because, after all, she’s an inspiration . . .

Pardon my being flippant and having a penis for a moment, but her horrible, awful, family life that requires her to be so put upon to be home with her kids but have a job that isn’t 12 months a year, gets tons of money on speaking tours and – oh, yeah, did I mention? – has a husband that no only supports her but cares for all those other details when she’s gone sounds pretty god-damn amazing to me!

I’m not saying this as a diatribe against my work life.  I have what she’s calling for – I have bosses and a job that allow me to go home and care for the kids when something’s wrong.  I have a job that is pretty amazing and allows me to do what I went to college for.  I could sit here, like Ann-Marie Slaughter, and complain about what my life could have been.  I really could.

could have been an actor.  I had a director from Chicago for a school play who was amazing and was in a Broadway production and willing to help and give advice . . . but my parents didn’t think that was a good path for me so they never told me the opportunities I could have had.  But if I’d done that I’d never have gone to college or met my wife or had the amazing opportunities I did.

could have been a musician, and I desperately wanted (and still want) to make a go of that.  But . . . I got married.  I had 1 kid . . . then 2 then 4 in one fell swoop.  Would I abandon those kids to make sure I got to hit the road and live out of a bus?  I can’t do it.  I live vicariously through my brother, and the advances in technology make it so I can write and record and sell music without leaving home.  Compromise, my friends, compromise.

My four munchkins…
could have been a news anchor or reporter.  Instead, I’m a reporter who uses others’ voices as a field producer.  I can do the job, probably should, but my career never took me that way.

What I cannot do is rely on my wife now.  This is one of the major things that, although she references and talks about, isn’t really on her radar.

How many of you out there – men and women – are doing this on your own?  How many of you, like me, struggle every day just to make ends meet, check-to-check, and still try to be father and mother to your kids?  Wow, how horrible for you, Mrs. Slaughter, that you have to quit your high-powered government job to go back to the job where you get 3 months off each year and then get to give speeches, meet interesting people, still say you worked at the White House, met the President, the former First Lady and worked for Clinton!

I’m sorry, her issue isn’t one of whether or not she was fed the right feminist ideals and rhetoric.  It’s that she thought she could have it all.  I died a little inside every time I had to come home late on my wife’s birthday because it was during the first week of the November ratings period in TV.  I tried not to hurt when my kids’ faces drooped after I told them I couldn’t do the talent show with them that year because my bosses wouldn’t let me come because, again, sweeps.  This isn’t a feminist thing it’s a parental thing.  No offense to you, ma’am, but you’ve been living in an ivory tower during both careers.  When asked if she’d have given up the job with Clinton if she had it to do over again what was her decision?

So, really, her disappointment and sudden “epiphany” is really moot.  It didn’t teach her anything.  She got to have her cake and eat it too.  She got to have the high-powered Washington career and be a Mom with a six-figure salary and be on TV and consult with the White House and be in-demand.

I guess I should say I’m not sorry.  . . because I’m NOT.  Why?  I’ve struggled with these things all along, and though I’m not a woman, I love my kids dearly.  I have held them close, cried when they fell apart after losing their Mom and was pained when I had to – even when Andrea was here – juggle career and home.  I needed to be home more but I didn’t get to make that choice, I had to do it.  Now, I don’t even have that wife at home to be my safety net – which was more of a stable pillar for her.

The country’s a mess, women need more opportunities to do their jobs from home and not be stuck at the office.  It gives, much like my rant on Rene Syler’s website Sunday, no credit to the father who has struggled with these same things.  I realize that I never carried a baby inside me.  I realize that I never felt their hearts beat in rhythm with mine and grow in intensity through the 9 months of gestation.  But that whole ideal that she struggles with things many try to say I simply cannot irks me.  When Abbi was born, so many people tried to hold her and feed her and comfort her and she wouldn’t give in.  She fought, struggled and cried.  The moment I picked her up, this amazing, tiny, helpless little thing, she turned eyes up to face mine, blurred as her vision was, and her entire body relaxed.  She snuggled her body next to mine and fit her little body in the curve of my arm and from that moment I called her “snuggle” because that’s what she did with me.  Nobody else.

That, my friends – Miss Slaughter – is just as much of a connection.  If you can do that and you’re not connected, your heart doesn’t melt, then parenting isn’t in your genes.

My conclusion?  To say you “can’t have it all” when you actually have so much in your life, including opportunities, power, possessions, and a loving family?  You’ve lost all your perspective.  You have, my dear writer and worker, it all and your struggle is with yourself.  What you neglect to realize is that so many people out there face similar or worse struggles.

And they have no choice at all.

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