Passing Notes - PN 2.8 - On Hiatus

I’ve been thinking about Michael Jackson and Lance Armstrong these days – that is, the comeback that never happened for the King of Pop and the comeback that might happen for Mellow Johnny. It’s not so much the struggle to reach the top again that intrigues me as much as that question, “Where have you been?”

In 2007, after a good eight years of freelancing as a writer, my wife and I had our first child. Although I kept my day job, I didn’t write anything for public consumption in almost two years. Anyone who has had a child and has been involved in the day-to-day details of parenting knows how unprepared even the most typically prepared of us feel when the baby bomb goes off and the little bundle arrives home. And, for us, before Baby One was even a year old, we learned that Baby Two was on the way, necessitating a big move to a bigger home just around the corner from my day job. Between baby care and home relocation, I had no spare time to write, much less read. Much less think.

Let me just say that I know for sure nobody misses my written (or radio) work to an extent that is in any way analogous to the pop culture void left my Michael Jackson's death or the lack of drama in cycling in the years Lance Armstrong didn't wear those tight shorts. )

Now, I know there are people – men in particular – who would get their writing done, regardless of the demands of a day job and a rapidly expanding home population. I am simply not one of those men, and that’s not because of the writing I want to do, it’s because of the parenting I want to provide to my two boys. I just can't manage it all; if you can, that's great. You should write a book. Me, I'm figuring it out as I go.

My friend Bill told me a story about the other day about when he was out with his two little girls – both of whom are under five – and going into a neighborhood sushi place for supper. He met a guy at the front door who was leaving with a takeout order. Sushi Guy told Bill what cute little girls he had, and added that he had a couple of his own. Then Sushi Guy said, “Yeah, and I really hope they’re asleep before I get home tonight.” Bill’s reaction was exactly what mine would have been: a polite chuckle and a quick turn away. Whatever, Sushi Guy. How’s that working for you?

And then Bill had a lovely meal with his two lovely daughters. I don’t know if the little ones had raw fish – veggie tempura perhaps?

I know from talking to most of my male friends that, for us, fatherhood is different from what we received as kids. Not to fault our own dads, because, as my own father has noted, expectations were very narrow for dads even a generation ago. But I still meet a great many men who are like Sushi Guy, who, I suspect, take for granted the work done by others (a wife, a nanny, a relative, a day-care professional) in the parenting of their kids. And while there’s much to be said for career, there’s only so much time in each day. Whatever brilliant (or less-than-brilliant) work I might do career-wise would mean little to me if my kids and I weren’t close. Yes, Future Me notes, I have more money, but my kids find me remote and definitely non-cuddly.

Ah, my career. No, I can’t work late every night. No, I can’t work many weekends. No, I can’t go on extended out-of-town trips. I have to be damned efficient in my day job, get my ass home, handle the nitty-gritty in the household, and get ready for the next day. There’s not much room for goofing around, and there’s not much room for error. The burden has eased somewhat of late, but my wife and I aren’t taking up ballroom dancing in our spare time.

The dads who change diapers and do the nighttime bottles and puree carrots and suck boogers and give baths and snap those goddamned tiny snaps, day in day out, have a much greater appreciation for their own partners and parents, and for the challenges of getting it all done each day. And I know this: The dads who are involved from the very beginning – as incredibly hard as it can be – wouldn’t give it up for anything. Rather, I give up what I must to be in the moment with my kids.

For example, last Tuesday night, I had intended to respond, inning by inning, to the MLB All-Star Game, but when the top of the first arrived, my oldest son couldn’t get to sleep, so I turned off the baseball game and we put in his new favorite DVD, the old Disney animated adaptation of Winnie the Pooh. This was a favorite of mine when I was a little guy, as it was for many kids born in the 1960s. I’m sure I watched it every time it was on The Wonderful World of Disney those Sunday evenings. But I even had the record album and picture book when I was a kid, and I wore out both.

Now, my son and I hadn’t yet watched the DVD together, so when I started singing along with the theme song – “Winnie the Pooh/Winnie the Pooh,/Tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff,” his eyes went wide and it appeared I had blown his two-year-old mind. How do you know this stuff, Daddy?

Kid, if you only knew. We’re going to have a lot to talk about, I’m sure of it.

So that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to the past couple of years. Taking care of the daddy details and making friends with a couple of little boys. I don’t think of my writing again as any sort of comeback at all, I’m just coming back to the keyboard after some very good time spent on more important matters. I hope the boys, when they learn to read, might agree.


Wendy said...

This post makes me happy for many reasons. Mostly, as a gal who is at home during the daytime with a baby, waiting for Daddy to return from his day job, it's nice to hear you say that you want to be at home. And that you appreciate the care that the daytime caregiver gives. Second, because the issue of "where have you gone" rings so true for anyone who has taken time "off" to have/raise/feed/diaper/love a baby. Life is not a race. That's what I just keep telling myself. And you're right, these minutes with these little people are fleeting.
Where have we been?
Nowhere special. But somewhere extraordinary.

Jenifer Adams said...

I thoroughly enjoyed taking a moment to read your work. It is heart warming. My fiance and I have made similar sacarfices in our career paths to focus on what is truly important, our son. Sometimes we take guff from other people who are more financially motivated, but we just smile to ourselves and give that same chuckle your friend gave Sushi Guy. We know what matters to us. Keep up the good work... oh yeah, and write when you can.

Copyright © Elizabeth Hertz Puglise 2009 said...

"I just can't manage it all; if you can, that's great. You should write a book."

Perhaps you should write the book. Not the book about getting it all done. But the book that gives the dads who focus on career and don't appreciate the caretakers and sacrifice the moments with kids, some insight into that dark picture that is their future. Reading what you wrote, and knowing dads who can't see the future as clearly as you can, made me realize that perhaps you and Dickens have more in common than you might imagine. Write the cautionary tale; it's here.

John said...

Thanks for these words of encouragement, Mark and thanks for the invite to Passing Notes. Your timing is quite good, as Molly is due any minute to give birth to our first wee bundle of joy, a girl we'll name Lucy. I look forward to reading more of your work, including the book when you get around to it. Incidentally, a gentleman I worked with in a summer program for three years at Oxford just penned the authorized sequel to the Winnie the Pooh series, Return To The Hundred Acre Wood. His name is David Benedictus. Take care, and best to your family. John Newman