Lucky Dad No. 3: Stay-at-Home Mom, Stay-at-Work Dad
As I said, I’ve always wanted to be a father, and I got my wish. Francine and I raised three wonderful daughters named Katie, Maura, and Claire.
Francine’s decision to stay at home with the girls was one of the luckiest things that happened to us as a family. I recognize that the subject of stay-at-home mothers is fraught with issues of economics, power, gender stereotypes, and the rest. Each couple has to sort those issues out for themselves. It’s complicated enough without the rest of the world giving instructions and commentary. It’s shocking to me how often people outside of a marriage attempt to judge or influence these decisions, and how frequently couples are called upon to defend or justify their actions. I say, give the parents a little breathing room, and a little credit for being able to decide things for themselves. With me and Francine, we determined that we could make it work financially if she stayed at home with the girls. After that, the decision was clear: Francine has been one of the all-time great stay-at-home Moms.
This wasn’t obvious from the start. We were both practicing attorneys when we met and married, and Francine didn’t have much experience around babies. In the delivery room, moments after Katie was born, the doctor gave the little swaddled up baby to me to hold. Oh, yeah, I thought, give me the baby, I know what to do. Been there, done that. But when I turned to hand Katie to Francine a few minutes later, her first reaction was one of alarm, and she blurted out “I don’t know how to hold a baby!” That lasted for about five seconds. From then on, she was a natural. So, as we raised the kids, Francine stayed at home dealing with the often exhausting and mind-numbing obligations of day-to-day parenthood.
Meanwhile, I went to the office and dealt with the often exhausting, mind-numbing obligations of earning enough money to keep it all afloat. For years, my mantra as I drove to work was “Eat, Sleep, Exercise.” These three are the cornerstones of personal health, and I knew that if I neglected any of them I was risking a physical breakdown. There were other priorities as well, of course. But I didn’t need to remind myself of how important Francine and the girls were to me, and everything else, frankly, took a back seat for about twenty years. Essentially, my job, my family, and “Eat, Sleep, Exercise” took up about 95% of my time.
For those who are not parents, it is not intuitively obvious how time-consuming it is. I remember once getting a call at work from a friend, asking me if I would like to go scuba diving with him in the Cayman Islands next weekend. Yes, I said, I would definitely like to do that! It sounded great! He then began to describe the details and logistics of the trip, until I interrupted him and said that I couldn’t go, and in fact that it was completely out of the question. I explained to him that his question was whether I would like to go to the Cayman Islands, but that what I would like to do and what I was actually able to do were two entirely different matters.
I have heard working women regret that they cannot have it all; that our economy and culture do not allow a working mother to have both a full-time career and the time she needs to be fully present for her children. This is true; absolutely, undeniably, and lamentably true. But rarely, if ever, do I hear the same statement applied to men. It’s as if our culture doesn’t think that men have to make the same trade-offs, but we do. It’s just that men lost this battle so long ago that no one seems to realize that a working father also must give up being fully present for his children. It’s OK—I’m not complaining or asking for pity. Earning money in order to support a family is a phenomenally satisfying and important role, and I was lucky to have it. The point is, both of us made sacrifices. Francine gave up a promising legal career for the life of a stay-at-home Mom, and took on all the exhausting, boring, and repetitive work that entails. I missed games, school performances, teacher conferences, bath time, play time, meal time, and even some family vacation time, because of the demands of my job. But we made these sacrifices because we were grown-ups and life is full of choices, and we both were absolutely sure that having our girls and raising them the best way we knew how was worth giving up all of the other things.
Believe me, I have no regrets.