After being the primary caregiver for his kids for several years, Jeff Dotts thought he might be ready to return to the work force. He was wrong.
After three years as a stay-at-home-dad, I started to get an itch. It was the kind of itch that I couldn’t really reach. You know the one I’m talking about—the one right in the middle of your shoulder blades that your arms with added fingers stretched just can’t get to. That’s the one. The problem with those itches, apart from the location, is that there’s no immediately identifiable cause. I didn’t get bit by a nefarious blood-sucker and I’m pretty sure I don’t have eczema. Yes, this itch is caused by something that a mere scratching post can’t remedy.
I had found my groove parenting my two girls. I’d resolved to yell less, feel less ashamed when I do, and spend more time in hug mode (I find that hugging them when I’m frustrated or angry with them allows me a tiny fantasy that I hug until they are unconscious). I’ve made friends who let me use my brain and let me rant about politics, education, and stupid people. But, still, I find myself thinking that I ought to be doing more. Clearly, parenting isn’t tough enough, overwhelming enough, or have stakes high enough. The itch.
I applied for a job. Weekly, one of those big, HR-focused social media websites sends me listings of jobs that seem to fit my competencies. Generally, nothing is appealing enough to motivate me to log onto the site to explore deeper. Until one day, I saw THE perfect job: working with young people, international travel, tons of responsibility, good salary, grassroots; really everything I’d create in my own job description.
I went through the process. I dug out my resume (three years after I last looked at it when I decided that my parenting job wouldn’t require an exhaustive look into my past), completed the application, and submitted the requisite writing samples and responded to the prompts relevant to the position. I was asked to interview. I did. I loved it. The questions were probing; my answers salient, relevant, and innovative. The panel was engaging, interested, and interesting. Perfect.
I was invited for a second interview. This time it was even more invigorating. The CEO and I were talking strategies, concepts, challenges. We enjoyed each other and I was sure that I was the candidate they were looking for.
Then, I had a four-day weekend to spend with my wife and kids, out of town and out of touch with the rest of the world. My wife’s a doctor and I see very little of her when there’s nothing else in our world that distracts us from each other. Four days of laughter, parenting together, enjoying each other (day and night), and loving our family time together. That itch that I had been having? I realized it wasn’t there anymore.
On Monday, when we returned, I checked my email and found the invitation to the final interview. It was down to me and one other candidate. I was sure that this interview was merely a formality. I knew I was the candidate they wanted for the job, that I felt was created just for me. But that itch was gone. I had been given the time to revisit myself and the world that I wanted to be a part of. I missed my wife, our relationship, and watching her be a mom. I couldn’t conjure a world in which my reentry into work (especially work that I knew would consume my head and heart) would create more opportunities for me to share my time with the person most important in the world to me.
My work shelf-life is limited. I’m 47. I’m over-educated in a narrow field that doesn’t have the financial means or need to hire a guy like me. This was my chance, maybe my last one, to jump back into the fray. But, the itch was gone. I wanted to work better at the job I already had and not split my allegiances between two obligations that would both need all of my energy. And one of those allegiances was, clearly, more important.
Son of a bitch.
I got on the phone and found myself telling the CEO that I would need to remove myself as a candidate. He told me he understood but that I needed to know that I was the candidate he wanted.
Son of a bitch again.
As I hung up the phone, I felt a great sense of calm. Nothing itched. I’m really good at this stay-at-home-dad thing and I’m the only one entirely qualified for this particular job. I own it. I’m a dad.
So, if you see me at the playground and want to talk about public education versus private education for your 4 year old, talk to me. I’ll happily engage my brain in that conversation as long as you help me keep an eye on “that one climbing up that wall.”
Jeff Dotts is a full-time dad and husband in Seattle. He spent 15 years working for young people from under-resourced communities. Then he got tired and decided to take the easy route and stay home with his twin, now-3-year-old girls. Genius.