Mr. Dad

Rosanna, Chan Lock Sang       ・65                Hong Kong


Why do people work? Why do most of us spend a lifetime 'working' somewhere?

The obvious answer would be necessity - food on the table and a warm place to sleep. Others would claim that work provides a creative or industrious outlet for their otherwise pent up energies. A lot of us are employees. Some of us are employers. But most of us go through the motions of building, creating, teaching, selling so that one day we won't have to. And if we're fortunate, that one day comes at point in our lives when we're still young at both heart and body.

Reflecting, I wouldn't say that I would have done much differently. I'm a teacher, it is what defined me through my working years, and it is what defines me in retirement. Not working was never an option. Even with the birth of my son, all I did was work harder. One image from my past resolves clearer than many other memories in all my years. It was around dinner time. I was preparing the meal. My son Marco, then about two and half wandered into the kitchen and stood beside me. He didn't do anything especially memorable. He just stood there beside me. I remember looking down at him and asking myself "How am I going to do this? How am I going to raise this baby?" He just looked at me, smiled and sauntered back to the living room where he had been watching television.

Thirty years later when he was having his first baby and announced that he was going to put his career on hold, I like any mother would when discussing such matters with his adult son, agreed with him outwardly but on the inside, I could not reconcile with his decision. Why would anybody leave their career while in full-stride to stay home? What about the risks? What if he can't resume his career? What if his wife couldn't work? What would other people think of him, essentially 'taking-it-easy' during the most productive years of his life? Years ago it would be unimaginable for a man to leave his career, especially when it had been a very successful one. Often, even if the opportunity presented itself, pride got in the way. 'I am the male - I must earn an income'. I'm sure that mindset still remains, as it certainly is still a quite a potent force in men (and women) of my generation. As more and more men leave lucrative careers to become full time fathers, it struck me that times really have moved on. And although the workplace is largely dominated by testosterone fuelled decision makers, there's a strong, growing fraternity of men who have decided that being a full time father is really the most rewarding kind of full time employment for the modern male.

In Marco's own words:

Brandon's birth afforded me the excuse and luxury to take a nine month leave of absence from work. In that time, I was the world to my son (at least when mom wasn't around). People joked about me being Mr. Mom, wondering if the house had burnt down yet or if the laundry stack was over two meters high (no to former, yes to the latter). Those who were less evolved wondered if I had a problem that my wife earned a higher income (my wife is a surgeon, I'm not) and that I was essentially the .mother・ during my time off. Truth is, if I ever attain 'Mom' rating and proficiency, I'd consider my 'Dad' career to be pretty successful. Those even further down the evolutionary weed (we're talking proto-reptile whose rudimentary processing rarely strayed beyond the brainstem) claimed that as a man, I needed to be the breadwinner. .You're a guy - you need to work. What are you going to do, change diapers all day?・

The time spent changing diapers is in the minutes. The rest of the time is spent playing, teaching, talking, reading, napping and checking out the ladies at the local mom-hangout (this never happened...). My son's first word is . Dehdee ・ It is still the only reliable pronoun he can utter. Everything else, . Mommy ・ included, fall strictly to chance, depending on mood and proximity to breasts.

Now that I have returned to work, I gravely regret that decision. Brandon is sixteen months, toddling around and talking up a storm. Every day that passes, he learns a little bit more. Every few days that I'm not home because of a trip, he learns a lot more. His face changes subtly each day, his sensibilities becoming increasingly attuned to his world. The little baby that spent hundreds of hours in my arms is becoming a little boy. A little boy raised by a nanny because both his parents work. We get about two hours with him before he goes to bed.

Now I am asking if it's worth it. If we can afford it, why am I not the one at home taking him to music or swimming classes? Why am I not the one who teaches and disciplines him? Why are we leaving the most important person in our lives to a relative stranger who will inevitably take the route of least resistance when it comes to discipline, education and guidance? Why am I out there expending effort for a bottom line that isn・t for my own cause and quotas that have no real intrinsic value to anybody except to a cadre of faceless shareholders oceans away? Why do I lose sleep when I think about the company・s targets but allow myself to neglect my son's own development and growth during this time when his mind and learning are most pliant? I am certainly in a very fortunate position to be able to have this dilemma so why am I so stupid not to have made the right decision?

I know I have to leave. Every argument in my head is conclusive. I work, if not for the current income then for opportunities to earn a higher income allowing me to do more with and for my family. But if in the course of the above I miss years with my son, what did I gain? I know that in a couple of years, if I don't sell millions of dollars of a company・s product, I will not regret it. If, however, I miss the days that Brandon went from being a baby to a kid who's lugging an overstuffed backpack to the first day of kindergarten, I will regret it and will never forgive myself for not making the right decision when I had the chance.

There's no question I will return to work. Brandon will go to school and I・ll need to learn how to converse with adults again.

Some folks feel a great sense of pride to say that they took a company from nothing to something or that they started in the mailroom and ended up as the Chairman. I think I・ll feel just as good to be able to say that I took my son to the park everyday and read to him every afternoon before putting him down for a nap. Yes V essentially what every stay-at-home mom has the privilege of doing.