Thursday, August 11, 2011
The "workaholic father" who spends so much time and effort chasing the next paycheck that he ignores his family and misses important moments in their lives is an old cliche'. It is easy to say that a father should prioritize his family above his job. This is easy to say, but often harder to do.
If we're talking about a family that is financially comfortable with a father who is desperate to make them wealthy and sacrificing quality time with his children in the bargain, then I think we can arguably say that his priorities are askew. I say "arguably", because if his quest for wealth is successful, he might have more leisure time with his family as a result and they all might have better lives. But what about if the family is barely scraping by? What if the choice is between spending quality time with the family and paying the rent, keeping food on the table, keeping the lights on?
It is easy to call a man a workaholic because he's busting his hump 12 to 16 hours a day in one job or another. For me, this means going from day job to writing job to personal training job and back. But when all these jobs are keeping the family afloat, that's not a workaholic, that's a man doing what's necessary to protect and provide for his family. That is, first and foremost, the reason for the existence of the male species.
We get little credit for this. As Chris Rock said in one of his stand-up routines, no one ever thanks dad for the heat or the lights or the roof over their heads. Mom gets the thanks for taking the kids to McDonalds. Ignored is the fact that there would be no McDonalds if dad was not out there busting his ass. Mom gets the credit for buying the kids new toys. Ignored is the fact that dad's sweat paid for those toys. Of course, most fathers would rather they had the leisure time to spend with their families. The reality is (particularly in today's economic climate) that if mom is staying home with the kids (another luxury in today's climate) someone has to fill the bank account.
Now let's look at the alternative. There are some fathers who spend lots of time with their kids because they are unemployed or grossly under employed and have no ambition or motivation to do anything about it. Their kids sometimes go without quality food or clothes or shoes. The utilities occasionally get shut off. Their mother cries over stacks of bills and wonders why her husband does little or nothing to fix it. For many of us, those are the two choices. Deadbeat or workaholic. There is no middle ground. We are struggling to get to that middle ground, working our asses off to get to a place where we are comfortable. Not wealthy. We just want to get to a place where we know all the bills will get paid on time,the refrigerator is full, the car has gas, and the kids have clothes and shoes, there's some emergency money set aside in case the car needs repairs or the kids need braces, and maybe a little extra for vacations and nights out on the town with the wife. If that makes us workaholics then we are so by necessity and we should be damn proud of the fact that we are willing to sacrifice sleep, fun, and time with the families we love, to give them better lives.
It is, in my opinion, the mother's job to explain to the children why dad has to work so much, to make them appreciate the sacrifices he has to make to give them decent lives, especially if she is a stay-at-home mother. It is her job to ensure that they are grateful rather than resentful if dad has to work a holiday just as much as it is the father's job to make sure that the time he does have with his family is maximized with as much love as he can fill it with.
If you are out there working long hours, putting in overtime whenever you can get it, working two or three jobs, all to keep your family fed and clothed, then you are a real man, a real father, and you deserve all respect and praise. Of course, you should not lose sight of your family's need for love and affection. You should not lose sight of your role as your children's educator and role model. You should not lose sight of you wife's need for romance and emotional support and adult communication. But that can be hard when you're exhausted after a long hard day. That should be understood as well. It is hard being a father and balancing all of this. It's even harder with the country in economic freefall. All we ask is for a little appreciation... and the big piece of chicken.