The dashboard clock read 10:03 pm.
I made the left turn onto my street and, ascending the hill, saw that the light to my daughter’s room was still on. I instinctively smiled before pulling into the driveway, jogging to the door, and bounding up the stairs two at a time.
I came on the landing just as my wife was about shut off the light.
My daughter, tucked in bed, looked at me, broke into a wide smile, spread her arms out, and yelled, “Daddy!”
I sighed with relief. For the first time all week, I made it home in time to see her before she fell asleep.
I spend a few hours with my daughter in the morning, but I also like to see her at night.
I’m fortunate that I have a job that doesn’t require me to travel or work the overnight shift, but I still put in the hours. When I moved from working in nonprofits to a multinational corporation, I finally benefited from a ton of perks for the first time – annual bonus, profit sharing, 401(k) plan, laptop – but they come with a price. During a hectic month-end close or prepping for a board meeting, it’s not unusual for someone in the office to walk around at 7 pm taking dinner orders from the people that are scattered throughout the floor.
Increasingly, this is how you get ahead in 21st Century America. You don’t get a bonus just for showing up. CEOs, even the bad ones, work their asses off. If you’re ambitious and want to claw your way up the corporate ladder, the best method is not always vertical, but diagonal. Check the career paths of various business leaders and you’ll see that many traveled to different states and countries, learning the business, doing jobs many of us don’t want to do.
I’ve been asked if I’d be willing to relocate to advance my career and I’ve declined. I did it once and that’s enough. I have roots now. We’re close to family, we’re in a good school district, and we love our house. I’m set. I’m not ambitious enough to want to go to Dubai or Buenos Aires for a year or two. That’s not good for my career prospects, but it’s better for my overall well-being.
I’m a white male, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about work/life balance. I want to provide the best possible life for my child(ren), but I don’t want to do it at the expense of time and moments. Where is the breakeven point between salary and time?
On the whole, men are more involved than ever. The days of Don Draper are over. A movie like Mr. Mom would never fly today, because the idea of a stay-at-home dad isn’t the farce or taboo it was thirty years ago. A man being baffled in the kitchen or the laundry room is just absurd and the stigma that men who are active participants in the lives of their children are somehow almost women is fortunately dying off with each passing year. Even that film’s title is insulting.
My wife cooks dinner most nights and, if I’m not in the office, I do the kitchen cleanup and pack lunches. On weekends, we take turns sleeping in and each handle the necessary duties.
Parenting, just like paying the bills, is a two-person job.
I read Sheryl Sandberg’s manifesto, Lean In, and my reaction was neither anger nor enthusiasm. Rather, it was a shrug. Because Sandberg writes from her perspective and experience, it’s obviously true, but it’s true for her. It is certainly possible to be an executive and a mother and everything else if you’ve risen to the level of success that allows you to have a chef and a nanny and a tutor. If it’s not a book for the 1%, it’s certainly for the 5%.
I work with people that send their kids to camp in the summer so they can enjoy their own time or that hire someone to occupy their kids while they relax on vacation. Those are the people to whom that book applies. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but just that it’s not realistic for everyone. It’s rare and that’s why it received so much publicity.
The vast majority of people are struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table. They don’t have the time or energy to worry about these esoteric issues that plague those in corner offices. Tell a woman that takes a bus to work each way and tries to make meals for her children out of generic canned goods and cheap meat to lean in and she’ll hit you with a wooden spoon. Tell a father cooking breakfast and dressing three kids before school every morning that he should do more at home and he’ll break a spatula over your head.
I have news for you, Sheryl: most of us, regardless of gender, are already leaning in as far as we can without breaking or falling.
Last night, as I walked into her room, my daughter asked me to stay with her for a few minutes. I’d said I’d be delighted to so. I turned off the light and sat on the floor next to her bed. She took my hand and curled her body around it, her head on my forearm.
I told her, “I’m sorry I haven’t been here the past few nights.”
She said, “That’s okay. You’re here now!”
At that point, I leaned in and kissed her forehead.
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, Medium, The Cauldron, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.