The sound of an automatic garage door opening is one I always associate with my dad; the door going up as he left early each weekday morning for his office; the same sound each evening signaling his arrival home from work, and dinner soon after.
For my father, his law office in downtown Toledo, Ohio, was his domain, a refuge and sacred space I have to believe, given how much time he spent there, and how much he talked about it even while at home. My dad’s longtime secretary knew him as well as his family; my father’s law partners made up the familiar landscape where my dad toiled 5-6 days each week, happily, until he moved to Florida, where he also kept an office and continued to work well into his 60s and early 70s.
Although I didn’t go to law school, I went to an office for many years as well. For my various jobs in Colorado, Ohio, and New York, I had a desk and phone, and eventually a computer, but my heart and soul were never there the way my dad was connected to his office and his work. I was a lousy employee, never very good at showing up on time, nor staying until the clock said it was time to quit. I couldn’t really understand why it was necessary to be at the office when there were more important things to be doing elsewhere.
Perhaps it’s my unique place in what’s known as Generation Jones – caught between a Baby Boomer’s drive for achievement and success to keep up with the Joneses, while also compelled by the ‘slacker’ values of Generation X, jonesing for more balance, freedom, and family time.
In my case, the slacker side won out. After becoming a dad myself, it took me just a year of trying to emulate my father’s work ethic, before I lost me job because I took too much time away from the office to spend with my young son.
So for more that 13 years now, my office has been in my home, where my own son sees a lot more of me than I did of my dad. So what message does an omnipresent father send to his kids about work?
While not absent all day long, as a work-at-home dad, anytime I open my laptop I am in effect ‘at the office.’ And when I hole up in my own workspace in our attic, it does take me away from the family, much as when my father was way downtown. And how does the fact that I work my work around my family time most of the time send messages to my son about what it means to have a job and be diligent in the pursuit of earning an income?
At this point, I can’t envision ever again going to the office – I mean one other than at home. So my son will see me around the house, working when I can and must, and being available to him whenever he needs, wants, or asks. And I deem this a good thing. Having a father around is about as good as it gets for kids, especially in their teens. Sure, I worry a bit that my Generation Y son will get the message that work is not so essential since his dad doesn’t seem to make such a big deal of it most days. I might have some concern that my kid will adopt the Millennials‘ sense of entitlement that’s said to be a hallmark of his generation, and eschew or at least delay his own work life in favor of living at home and off of his parents for longer than we might wish.
But right now I celebrate that our little family usually shares an office, as my son still chooses to have his desk in the downstairs common room of our home rather than in his upstairs bedroom the way I did. And during most evenings, like just last night, there are three of us with open laptops, doing the things that need to be done. And last night when it came time to offer assistance, Jordan sent me and Maggie a shared Google Doc of his essay about Homer’s Odyssey, which we each read and commented on, so he could turn it in the next day. From the amount of time he spends on homework, and the good grades he gets, I am not really worried about his work ethic. And I am happy to be nearby, modeling my own values and supporting his needs.
That’s the job we all share as a family, to stay connected, in close communication, collaboration, and in our case, proximity. That’s the office where we spend the most time, and do our best and most important work.
…and that’s the full-circle fatherhood report.