Lately dads have been on my mind. I'm wondering if the balance between their work life and their home life is working for them, and for their children. I'm wondering if it is working for life, for the way we honor and guide our future, our children. I'm noticing often, it mostly isn't.
Where have all the fathers gone? I'm reminded of the epic Peter, Paul and Mary song Where Have All The Flowers Gone? and can't help feel the spirit of this music in my chest when I contemplate the role of fathers in children's lives today. First, a melancholy tone. Then dreams, possibility, and inquiry.
Pete Seeger (1919-2014), who wrote this song, was often asked about its meaning. He said, "No, I think I'll just let the song stand on its own two feet. You know, a song can mean a thousand different things to different people, and when people ask me what the song means, I say, "Whatever it means to you, it means."
For me this post is an inquiry. It isn't intended to criticize; it is an invitation. There are some fathers who are content with their balance between job/commute time and family/kid time. And many are not -- whether they're painfully aware of that and doing all they can to transition into a greater sense of balance, or they're in some sort of denial, succumbing to the status quo. It's the real world, I've heard one father say, referring to his long daily commute and his "sacrifice" working so much. For so many fathers, quality experiences with their children comprise a tiny percentage of their time... evenings and weekends, or an hour on some evenings and a few hours on some weekends. If this isn't working well for families, children, mothers, fathers, life... then what is it working for?
Most dads want to provide for their families. And moms are so grateful for this! Yes, work is a beautiful thing when it provides financial support for basic needs like food and shelter, and offers us a chance to share our talents and joys. What I wonder is what might happen when we start valuing life itself -- including the role of fathers in children's lives -- more than we value this thing we call our economy.
We must ask ourselves, is the economy working for me? Is it working for my family? Is the time and energy I give to my job worth the time and energy it takes away from my own passions, my children and the rest of my community? And perhaps most importantly, since we are continuously designing the path before us... Is there a better way?
My observation is that we're mostly in a daze. These questions strike up strong defensiveness and denial in many people, rather than open-minded curiosity. We think that because "this is the way it is," it's just the way it is. Status quo. Let it go. Hippy. (Wink wink.) For some or even most, this trade-off means exchanging some of our material excess for things that really bring us joy -- like connection, adventure, presence, laughter and play.
Our culture is entrenched in a belief system that idolizes the economy and habitually defends it. What if we allowed some curiosity to enter our minds?
Fortunately, for a lot of people who I encounter, this questioning is old news, and they're on their own unique path to creating something different. My own little family had a "wake-up call" with our newborn daughter and realized that for us, there is indeed a better way. What is it? That's a work in progress. And I believe this process will be unique for each family or person who takes an approach of curiosity around this question, although there are likely to be some powerful common themes. What we do know is that we want our daughter to know her father more, to experience his talents and presence more. His ways complement mine, and that variety is so important for children.
Where has our daughter's father gone? To work at about 5:00AM every day, for time on the highway, often in traffic, and... this isn't about complaining, so I will stop this list. Because this job is what pays our rent and dental bills right now. And there's no question we are grateful. The point is that we are also devoted to life more than the economy, and we know there's a balance that'll serve life more, if we lean into finding it. We believe we'll serve all of life more generously, including our own lives, when he is able to spend just a bit more time with our daughter -- in the woodshop, singing Swedish songs, on flower picking walks, cutting vegetables for dinner.
It takes patience, lots and lots of patience, and being willing to envision the life we are wanting, and being willing to admit what isn't working, and being willing to both appreciate what we have, and to know it is up to us and our dreams to make it even better.
Thanks for the juice, Pete Seeger.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a lifelong letter writer, a mother, freelance consultant and eternal fan of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. This deeply personal blog and our recorded talks and workshops are devoted to one of her great passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.