I made my wife cry. That’s why I remember that particular night. At the time, we were not yet married and we were eating dinner at one of those chain restaurants. We were talking about the future as two young people do who have no idea what the future holds. We were still in that giddy in love phase where we named future children and decided what colors we’d paint the walls of our imaginary future home. We also discussed careers.
I’d just gotten a new job with a big newspaper in Philadelphia. I was feeling good about myself and liked talking careers because I was pretty impressed with myself. I mentioned that as a newspaperman I’d probably have to move around the country quite a bit. I asked her if she’d mind leaving her job to follow me around. She said she wouldn’t mind a bit as long as we were together. And she said she’d work any job and it wouldn’t matter to her one bit as long as we were together. It all seems silly now but that’s the way young people talk. But I knew she was serious and I remember being marveled by her.
She asked why I was surprised and I said simply that although our future together was very important, I couldn’t be happy unless I was succeeding in my career. You see, I said, to succeed at anything you need to have one thing as your goal. Whatever your goal is, everything else should be built towards achieving that goal.
When I look back, I don’t even know the guy saying those things. But it was one of those moments that I didn’t realize at the time was a big moment. I seem to never catch on to those moments while they’re happening. I took a bite of potato skins and looked up to see my future wife crying. I was shocked. I honestly had no idea what could’ve made her cry. I stupidly looked around the room to see if someone had said or done something or thrown something at her. I didn’t need to look so far to find the culprit.
She wiped her eyes and said she would’ve hoped that I could be happy with her and our future children in our imaginary house no matter what kind of work I did.
And that’s when I said it: “I can’t be happy unless I’m writing for big newspapers or magazines. I need to succeed. That’s just me. It’s the way I’m built. You have to accept that.”
Well, the adage goes that if you want to make God laugh, make a plan. Well I had plenty of plans. God must have been laughing that day but I remember it because my wife cried. But that moment stuck with me and it made me think about myself a little more as to whether I was heading down the right path with my life. It wasn’t anything I would ever talk about but it’s one of those things that sits on your mind in the undistracted hours of the night.
I was still working at the newspaper when we had our first child. And because of our erratic schedules we decided to put my daughter into day care. To be honest, we hardly thought about it. It was what people did. So in theory I had no problem with it. But you see, my daughter is not a theoretical daughter. She’s very real. And she’s mine. And I had to drop off my very real daughter at daycare.
I remember it was the night before day care and my wife asked me who would drop off and who would pick up. I decided quickly. I would drop off and my wife would pick up. Seemed simple. Let me tell you something, dropping off is a lot more difficult. Dropping off changed my life.
The first day I dropped my daughter off at day care I knew that it was undoable. I didn’t know know but I knew, if you know what I mean. I walked in and the nice lady said, “just put her down over there.” So I put the car seat down on the rug. The lady said, “Not there because the toddlers might try to touch her.” So I moved her over to the corner of the room and walked to the door. I turned to see the car seat rocking slightly and her little hand reaching up towards the colorful plastic keys dangling from the handle. I watched her from the door and nobody came and got her. And then I left.
And that’s one of the secrets nobody tells you about day care. It’s hard. It’s hard to leave a child. It’s hard to think of other people raising your children. It’s hard to have the hurried phone conversation with your spouse asking if they can pick up the child because you’re stuck at work. It’s hard.
I was typing a story late one night when it hit me that every day my daughter was surrounded by people who didn’t love her. It wasn’t a knock on them. They were nice women…who didn’t love my daughter.
It took a few weeks after that for my head to catch up but she was soon big enough to cry when I dropped her off. She knew she was being left. And that was really it. (As I’m writing this I’m realizing that so many changes in my life have come to prevent the women in my life from crying.)
I spoke to my wife that night. And when I spoke logically about what to do it became apparent that the newspaper business was a dying business. And moving around the country wasn’t the best thing for children. And also, I could write from home and earn money. So, being ever logical, I decided to work from home. It was logical.
Now, when I started working from home I took on all sorts of work. I wrote technical articles, I wrote speeches for political candidates, I wrote press releases, news articles, features. Whatever I could write I wrote. I thought I could be a writer who took care of his kids on the side.
But children don’t stay on the side. They’re front and center. They’re needy. They stink sometimes. They need baths. They need to get outside. They need to eat…a lot. They need to be tickled. They need to be talked to. They need to be held by the hand. They need someone to push them in the swing. In short, they need a parent.
And at some point their needs replaced my desire to conquer the world. My life focused more on being a Dad of one, two, then three, then four, now five children. Now, my afternoons are filled with homework assignments and diapers. I’m still a writer of press releases and articles but I’m first and foremost a stay-at-home Dad. A very surprised stay-at-home Dad.
I have four daughters and a son filling my everydays. Someone is always crying. We laugh a lot too, though. My wife doesn’t cry in restaurants anymore but that’s partially because we can’t afford to go out to dinner that much. The funny thing is that our family has never been happier. So I have succeeded at that. And that is my one goal around which all other things are built.