Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Daddy, are you home tomorrow?"

I get this question almost every night, usually from Madison but sometimes from both she and Ava, and five days out of seven – from the perspective of the questioner – I have the wrong answer.

I understand, of course, that my, “no, I have to go to work tomorrow,” response is not wrong from the standpoint of our reality and the need to generate the economic support necessary for us to continue in the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed. But it’s hard to do justice on here to the hopeful eyes, the plaintive tones and the crestfallen reactions that play out in our house as part of this recurring dialogue. And I’m actually lucky enough to have a job that keeps me local most of the time, and without a commute that would cancel out the hour or so we spend together every morning and severely curtail evening tuck-ins and story time as well.

I have friends who travel for work extensively, one fraternity brother in particular who is on the road to international destinations for at least a week or 10 days a month, others who typically leave home before their kids are up to catch morning trains, return after they are asleep and get to reintroduce themselves on the weekends, maybe.

I’m in a far preferable situation when it comes to family time, but even five days a week in the office are too much for Madison and Ava. My kids are fortunate in this regard, but they feel deprived, and they are too young to understand or fully appreciate all the evidence to the contrary.

A friend and former colleague of mine who was in between jobs a few years ago and evaluating employment alternatives came up with a great turn of phrase that has stayed with me and is worth repeating. He mentioned one possible destination we both saw as probably unfulfilling but almost certainly lucrative, and said he had a “fiduciary duty to the residents of 28 Pine Lane” to fully investigate the opportunity.

I guess that fairly well sums up our situation. As much as I’d like to tell Madison and Ava what they want to hear – that we have a Tuesday or Thursday of Play-Doh or Noggin ahead of us – I have to recognize that I have a fiduciary duty to the residents of my house to get out of bed, kiss them goodbye and go make the money necessary to buy the swing set they play on, and the gum they chew, and the Skechers on their feet. [I'm not even getting into professional fulfillment or job satisfaction here because this is being written from the girls' perspective, and to document this daily exchange, and while Need To Earn Money is something they can sort of see at this point, it's a little early for these broader concepts.]

And, money aside, I still get the question almost every night, and it’s a moment I don’t relish, because while it passes quickly, and the girls are basically old enough to get where I have to go each day and why – what it means for us today and in the future – the bottom line is that they would rather have me around. The fact that Gwen would often willingly, happily, (ecstatically?) trade places with me is off point for this posting and something I’ll have to probe in a future entry.

I’ve taken both Madison and Ava to the office, usually for a few hours on slow Friday afternoons, and they’ve enjoyed meeting the people I work with, drawing on paper with colorful markers, watching television and going down to the company cafeteria for chips or frozen yogurt. When I first went to my father’s office as a kid, one Saturday afternoon, I remember being so captivated by the Tang they had in the little kitchen area and the big water cooler that I forced my mother to buy some of the wondrous orange powder “that the spacemen drank” so we could have it at home. I can still taste it.

Remember that scene in Kramer vs. Kramer when Dustin Hoffman takes his son to his new office, that one in the city with the big window and the view, and the kid is just blown away? There's something about an early visit to an office environment - even without a view of Manhattan - that has the odd ability to totally captivate children. Pens seem cool. Paper is so readily available it's like you landed on another planet or something. Maybe it's the mystery of finally seeing the place where a parent or guardian goes every day, the place they "live" when they're away from the family. Maybe it's just the metal, the glass, the muted color choices, bad industrial carpeting or pale manila folders. Whatever it is, it's real.

When I come home at night Madison sometimes asks about my day, what I did and who I talked to. She’s interested in hearing about these things and when I tell her that I had meetings, or spoke to people on the phone she wants to know whether the men and women she’s met in the office were involved, and what we said, and why.

As I tucked her into bed earlier tonight, and after she had told me all about her day, Madison once again asked me whether or not I was “home tomorrow.”

“No, honey, I have to go to work, I’m in the office tomorrow, but there are only two more days this week and then I’m home for two days.”

“Two more days this week after tomorrow, or including tomorrow?”

“Including tomorrow. Tomorrow is Thursday, then there is Friday and the next day is Saturday and I’m home that day.

“Home for how many days?”

“Two days. Saturday and Sunday.”

“YEAH! TWO DAYS!”


It felt good to deliver the news. Late in the week it always does. And we haven’t even gotten into the notion of Labor Day yet…

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