This Father's Day, I think of a dad who worked so hard for his family.
The following is an excerpt from my new book, The Working Dad's Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home.
Last year, I attended a reception for honor students at my university. I had served as a senior thesis mentor for a promising young man named James, whom I am certain will leave his mark on the world. It was a great night where we acknowledged the efforts and intellectual endeavors of our very best students, and I was in awe of how preternaturally mature and composed these future leaders were. In contrast, the 21-year-old Scott was nowhere near as together as these students.
But the highlight of the night for me was meeting James' parents. James' mother is from Guatemala and speaks very little English. But you could see how proud she was of her son, and how close they were. James' dad was also proud and loving. Years ago, he had emigrated from Argentina, and has worked tirelessly to provide his son with a better life and the opportunities he never had.
James' father worked three jobs most of his adult life -- real, physically and psychologically demanding manual labor. He wasn't always there to be with his son growing up -- he was too busy doing the most important job of a father -- sacrificing himself so his son could get what he needed. James' parents worked incredibly hard to be able to send him to college, and James was the first in his family to go. What an evening it must have been for James' father, seeing his soon-to-be-college-graduate son receiving his academic honors in the ballroom of a fancy hotel.
How proud he must have felt to see the payoff for all his work and sacrifice. As a college professor, I keep fathers like him in mind. I owe it to them to give their children my best.
Speaking with James' father, my thoughts started drifting to my relationship with my son, Nick. While I have made sacrifices and work hard to be a good father, I couldn't help but feel lucky to have had things so much easier. My single job pays well and affords me lots of time flexibility and autonomy. I never felt the stress of deciding whether to spend time with my son or take on another job so I could feed him. Most of the time, what is best for Nick is also what I want to do -- spend quality time with him, and serve as his life coach and mentor.
A few weeks earlier, Nick competed in his first gymnastics meet. It was such a special moment for me. Not that he performed so well (although that was a nice perk), but rather that I got to see my son grow from the infant for whom no crib or baby gate could deter, to the toddler who couldn't walk ten steps without doing a cartwheel, to the young man who worked his butt off for two years training for that moment. The fact that he was there, confident, and having fun was enough to bring tears to my eyes as he approached the parallel bars for his first ever event. I felt so blessed to have been able to be with him, really with him, every step of the way.
On the drive home that afternoon, my thoughts again drifted to James' father. It would break my heart to have had to miss out on a day like that. To miss Nick's birthdays, light-saber battles and little league games. Heck, it would pain me to miss out on celebrating my own birthdays, enjoying lazy weekend days, and having the leisure time to read, relax and recharge. James' father gave up all those experiences out of love for his family. I am in awe of his love and sacrifice, and wondered if, had I been in a similar situation, I would be man enough to always do what was needed instead of what I wanted. I also think about all the single parents who have made sacrifices and faced a much harder road than mine.
James' father sacrificed much of his life and poured that life into his son. He's my inspiration. I try to keep James' father in mind whenever I write or speak about fatherhood. He reminds me that while work-family concerns are most commonly addressed in white collar companies with middle- and upper-class workers, work-family concerns actually hit those in blue collar and working class jobs the hardest.
But even from my fortunate perch, I struggle with work and family pressures. We all have our challenges. We all could use some help. This Father's Day, it is my sincerest hope that all fathers can experience joyful moments like the one I experienced at Nick's tournament. My wish for you and for all fathers is that you can succeed in your career, provide for your family, and spend vast quantities of high quality time with those you love.
I don't believe we can "have it all" in terms of work and family, certainly not all at once. We are adults, we have to set priorities and understand the trade-offs involved. However, I do believe that if we prioritize, develop strategies and put them into action, we can get what is most important for us and for our families. We can get what we need. We can be successful both at work and at home.
What do you think about the challenges of working dads? Any stories to share? Let's discuss in the comments.