When You’re Home, Are You HOME?
One of the things I’ve learned in the last few years was a harsh lesson about something I hadn’t always done in my kids’ early lives.
I work in a job that can be moments of tedious combing through numbers and data followed by moments of sheer panic when breaking news hits and you have to race out the door at a moment’s notice.
My own children now have been groomed to an almost Pavlovian action of acceptance when my cell phone rings. They’ve seen the result of that phone call time and again. My oldest more than the others, as in previous jobs I wasn’t just a producer and writer I was also a photographer.
On an early evening, a celebration of wonderful accomplishments by my oldest daughter when she was very little I’d made a commitment to go out to dinner at her favorite restaurant. Instead, I called home because I got sent to a standoff. A man held himself at gunpoint and we all knew it was going to end with him surrendering and the day’s work amounting to about 30 seconds of airtime. At best. My wife was furious.
My daughter simply accepted it, though disappointed.
On 9/11 I was in a car on the way to the airport after the first plane hit. I was supposed to fly to New York to cover it. A couple weeks later I was in Washington, DC covering the aftermath. My daughter was supposed to have a play.
We were out at a family outing when the Space Shuttle Columbia went down. I spent the next two days in the piney woods of East Texas in what forever thought was the most depressing story I ever covered.
Even on days when things weren’t insane or tragic events, the idea of chasing all this was exhausting, both mentally and physically. My kids would ask: “can you play a game with me” and I’d inevitably be nearly catatonic or asleep.
I wasn’t terrible. On the days this didn’t happen I was there, invested, and involved. I made dinner most evenings, as my wife wasn’t fond of cooking. I made their desserts. I planned birthday parties that cost me too much money. Yet I always knew that when things blew up I’d just drop everything and go.
So four years ago when I became a single dad that changed.
The job I have has been wonderful. When my son needs to go to the doctor . . . they know I have to go to the doctor. When I’m out with my family, I’m out with them. It’s certainly the lesson I learned from my time growing up. My father worked . . . but when he was home with us, he was home with us. He may have worked on home repairs but if we wanted to help, we helped.
“Dad, can I help you make that dessert,” my son will ask, and the answer is always “yes.” My oldest, in college, says she has a performance to show what their grant proposal was and, hard as it was to arrange, I was there. No complaints. (Well, except for the hour I waited in line at “Voodoo Doughnuts” to get her doughnuts for the evening. I still am not sure that was worth it)
I still have my moments. I’ll walk in the door and be asked “want to play a game, dad?”
“I’m making your dinner!”
Later certainly seems tiresome and I sometimes say I just am too tired. I work my job still, am committed, and if the world explodes, I still go in without hesitation. Yet if nobody can watch the kids. . . they know I have that issue to attend and if I cannot, they may be frustrated but understand. That’s worth its weight in gold.
Though tonight my son asked “do you want to take the online quiz I made?”
I was in the middle of making dinner. Yet I saw the hope in his eyes and the spark in there that was proud of what he did. It’s something in years past I might very well have missed.
“Let me finish . . . and then we’ll try.”
I sat down, and my son had made a trivia quiz about “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” I got all but one right.
“Wow! Good job, Dad,” my son said.
My routine tonight, as it is every night, was to take them up, read them a chapter out of the book they wanted – not because I treat them like little kids, but because they ask me to do it. They like that I make voices and dramatize the books. That’s why they want it.
I hug my daughter at the end of the evening, tell her “goodnight Beastie”. Then I text her sister at college, and tell her I love her.
And I go to bed in order to do it all over again tomorrow.