When my son Dakota was 8, he began exhibiting some troubling behavior. He seemed anxious and easily upset. Did he have anger issues? Why was he so agitated and ornery?
My wife and I sought professional help. The child psychologist listened, asked questions and then offered some insight.
"It is pretty obvious that Dakota misses his daddy," she said. "You are extremely busy, John. And now you're seeing the external signs of the internal stress your son is experiencing."
I was stunned by the revelation. I was pursuing my master's degree and logging 45 to 50 hours a week at my job, but I hadn't realized how large a price my kids were paying for my absence. From that day on, I made an extra effort to verbalize my love for my son and to be available for him until he went to bed, leaving my schoolwork for later in the evening. The emotional healing took years, but I'm grateful I had the opportunity to correct my mistake while my kids were still young.
For many fathers, the task of balancing work and home life poses the greatest of all challenges. Men typically begin building their careers just as they're becoming fathers. They feel an immense pressure to perform on the job even while they should be turning their attention to home. All too often, work wins out.
What is it that makes the pull of work so irresistible? Famed Christian scholar C.S. Lewis offered this insight:
Men tell not only their wives but themselves that it is a hardship to stay late at the office or the school on some bit of important extra work. But it is not quite true. It is a terrible bore, of course, when old Fatty Smithson draws you aside and whispers, "Look here, we've got to get you in on this examination somehow" ... A terrible bore ... Ah, but how much more terrible if you were left out! It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons, but to have them free because you don't matter, that is much worse.
There are many reasons why a father will trade work for time with his kids, but a fear of being deemed insignificant is, sadly, very high on the list.
A father may also be drawn to the sense of accomplishment and completion that work provides. At the office, there's usually some kind of checklist, even if it is only cleaning up the inbox or making some important phone calls. The workplace gives men opportunities to measure their output and to feel competent and significant.
Fatherhood, on the other hand, rarely offers measurable results or clear indicators of success, and the payoff for all that effort may not come for many years.
So if we hope to fight the irresistible pull of work, we must take the long view of our parenting task. The results of our engagement at home may not be immediate, but they are far more profound and lasting than anything we can accomplish at the office.
Listen to John Fuller talk more about being a dad on Part 1 and Part 2 of the broadcast titled "New Dads: Embracing the Journey Ahead."
John Fuller is a co-host of the daily "Focus on the Family" radio program and the author of
First Time Dad . He and his wife, Dena, have six children.
This article first appeared in the Summer, 2011 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled "Tug-of-Work." Copyright © 2011 Focus on the Family. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
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