My son will never know the man who was once a driven writer for a major lottery corporation. My son will not know his father as an educator who enthusiastically prepared literature lessons for high school students.
At four years old, my son Cash is already talking about what he wants to be when he grows up. I feel partly to blame, along with my wife, for his fascination with career choice. From the moment he started kindergarten we have stressed the importance of school and that the knowledge he will gain over the years, in addition to hard work, will be instrumental in opening career opportunities for him.
This may seem like a mature topic for a little kid, but in today’s competitive job market, it’s never too early to start.
On our bike ride home from the park the other day, my son calmly stated, “I want to take care of my family like you when I grow up.” I could tell he had been pondering the timing of his statement for a while. As much as it warmed my heart, I didn’t know how to respond. I was elated that he recognized and appreciated my role in our family as a stay-at-home father, and that he can obviously see the joy it brings to my life.
In other ways, my heart sank.
It is a father’s dream to be his child’s role model. However, in that moment, I unexpectedly began to feel like the example I was providing for my son was incomplete. I could exemplify good values and morals and personify hard work, but as a stay-at-home-dad I feel unable to map for him the road to a successful career.
I do not want to become one-dimensional.
I fear my son will never see in me the qualities that made me so proud of my own father. For as long as he can remember I have been his primary caregiver. I have changed his stinky diapers with a T-shirt wrapped around my nose and mouth; I have held his trembling body during night terrors; I have encouraged his first steps, helped him speak his first words and guided him to his first day of kindergarten.
My son will never know the man who was once a driven writer for a major lottery corporation. My son will not know his father as an educator who enthusiastically prepared literature lessons for high school students. There will be no bring-your-child-to-work days. How will he answer when friends invariably ask, “What does your dad do?”
Admittedly, this is rooted in my own insecurity. My wife, a judge, has worked tirelessly to achieve professional success. The example she provides to our son is invaluable and all encompassing. Yet, I can’t help but revert to my childhood and think about having two parents who both worked hard to accomplish lasting careers.
I vividly remember having a conversation with my father at a young age. We were returning home from a weekend hockey practice. My father, just off work, was driving in his company vehicle: A cube van – a mobile office for his business as a contractor. The rear of the van rattled with the clanking of pipe wrenches, fuelling system parts and other tools. The cab smelled faintly of gas, which always reminded me of him.
He stopped just shy of our driveway. Through the clicking of the signal light indicator my father looked at me and said, “Mat, when you grow up, choose a career that allows you to spend as much time as you can with your family.”
I did not know what to say. I murmured, “OK, dad.”
I could tell he wanted to say more, but he turned away and pulled his van into the driveway. He had said enough. At the time, he knew that what he was teaching me would exceed my understanding. But I feel that he somehow knew that I would carry his words with me as I matured into the man I am today.
Years later, I watched my son bike down the sidewalk in front of me. If it hadn’t been for the path I took and the decisions my family made, I would not be spending these moments with him. I will never be able to give him all the lessons he needs, but I can give him quality time. And that is paramount.
Arriving home, we stopped on the sidewalk just shy of our driveway. I turned, looked at my son and told him, “Always try your best and never quit. Learn as much as you can. Take risks. If you do this, when it comes time to have a family of your own, you will have everything you need to take care of them. And you will know what that means when the time comes.”
My son gazed back at me. “OK, daddy,” he said.
This article originally appeared on MariaShriver.com
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