By JAMAL FREDERICK
The rearview mirror conversation I had with my daughter while driving her to pre-K made my heart tighten. I could almost hear it break.
Her: Daddy, why do you have that other shirt hanging up?
Me: Because I have to work at the other job tonight, babe.
Her: Oh… *insert sad, pout face here* Well, I’m just going to miss you…
I used to wear my two jobs on my chest as a badge of honor, but at that moment I felt a bit as if my daughter had pulled back the thick veil of “good daddy” and revealed how much I was actually… failing? The part of me that, with heavy eyelids, stares at a 60-hour workweek dismisses that notion as ridiculous. But the part of me that realizes I’ve only spent a handful of hours with my family reluctantly nods its head in agreement. And now, I’m struggling down to the core with an internal conflict: Is my attempt at being a good father in the traditional sense making me a bad dad by modern standards?
I’ve got a wife, two kids and two jobs and now, I’m able to understand older generations of men. I’ve felt the feelings of pride in my work—feelings that turn into resentment. I’ve known purpose that’s faded into an existensial sense of despair. I’ve birthed anger and frustration—disguised my selfishness with entitlement. Past generations of men, worn out and down from hard, mind-numbingly, back-breaking work, found an escape by being moody, seeking other women, finding their way to the bottle. It was, at its essence, an attempt to find some personal joy in the abyss of responsibility. An escape.
This is the feeling we’ve all felt. One that reminds you that you need and deserve a smile crafted just for you—that you are entitled to it. How you respond when that need is not fulfilled is when it becomes problematic.
I have no doubt that a home is missing something when a father is not physically and mentally present. I know mine does. But it’s also hard to reconcile that the sheer physical and mental strain of a hard work schedule can turn a man into a father he never intended to be. An angry father. A father constantly in physical pain. A father who is mentally exhausted with short patience, low tolerance and a firm and aggressive attitude. I try to stay aware to make sure this doesn’t become me.
Sometimes there is no way to find a balance—you just do the best you can. The little time I have available to spend with my loved ones isn’t enough to keep me from consulting with my wife on what our sons cry means or about all the subtle nuances of our daughter’s growth that I’ve missed. We plan our “family fun days” around my time off and dates with my wife have included late night, after work drives to Berkeley for pizza while listening to a Marc Maron podcast. I think more and more about my wife and how I don’t want her to be in the position of all-too-many women—the one where she bears the burden of the man’s struggle. My absence has caused her to pick up more work at home with the kids, less time to herself, less time with me. These are all things she wouldn’t have chosen for herself.
I am torn in other ways, too. As I work more in one field, the further I fall in the others, and it becomes this cyclical feeling of never doing enough and each day feeling like a Sisyphean labor.
I’m working to bring us to that next stage, but the risks are slowly revealing themselves. What if my plan doesn’t work the way I want it to? How do I reconcile in the future all the time lost right now? This is the price of admission for this ride—this investment. I have an idea, a dream, a goal and a plan and with the stakes being this high, I must make sure it works. I must. I’m sure it will.
Jamal Frederick lives in California’s Bay Area with his wife and their 4-year-old daughter and 5-month-old son. Jamal also contributes to www.uncouthed.com. Follow him on twitter @jamalfrederick