I was sitting across from Sally, the director of Academics for Athletes. She was offering me a new job.
Sally was wearing a black long-sleeved shirt with a collar. She was in her late fifties, maternal disposition with a soft voice, white curly hair, and stout hands. She’d worked for the university for about 10 years. I’d worked at the university for about three. I’d gotten to know her, and her department, through a shared committee. Somehow I’d impressed these people, and now she was offering me a life change.
We talked about the position, the hours, the duties, and the pay. “I think you’d be great for this,” she said. “We all really enjoy you. You’d fit in well.”
It was a considerable raise in salary from my current position, which means I might be able to quit my second job teaching English online. My previous position was grant funded, so this would be much more secure. I’d get more vacation and a new cell phone. The building was nicer. However, it would mean much more responsibility, and potentially more hours.
Despite all the reasons to take the job, all I could think about as Sally spoke was my family. I felt a pit in my gut. It was a mix of emotions. I was flattered to know that she thought so highly of me. But I was nervous to make the change. I worried what it might do to my work-life balance. Ever since I turned 30, I’ve wanted to be a father first, and an employee second.
Last year my boss hinted that she’d like me to be the interim director of the program I currently worked for, and I said I wasn’t interested because I knew just how much time it would take away from my family. There was also the fact that I was comfortable in my current job. I knew my schedule, I knew what to expect, and I knew what time I had to spend at home. It was consistent, for the most part, and this new offer made me really worried that I'd get wrapped up in something I couldn’t get away from and fail as a father.
“Can you give me a few days to think about it?” I said.
Sally nodded, “Absolutely. I wouldn’t expect anything else.”
As I left her office, I thought about a man I hardly knew. My father. He was a heating and air-conditioning contractor and business owner who spent most of my early childhood at work. To ease the stress of managing his own business, he turned to prescription painkillers and alcohol. He ended up plowing through four marriages and died at 49 years old. I think about my father a lot because I don’t want to become him. I don’t want to allow my job, my ambitions, to keep me from being a good father and husband.
During the next several days Mel and I discussed the pros and cons. We chatted about the extra money, how much time I thought it might take, the extra security. We realized that if I quit teaching altogether I’d actually be taking a small pay cut, but we’d still be able to manage. We prayed about it. I asked others about the position, including the person who used to be in it. Everyone seemed to feel that once I learned the job, it would be manageable in 40 hours a week.
Mel and I went back and forth. It really is surprising how much having children changes the way a person makes decisions. It has made me much more reflective, and much less likely to simply jump in. I seem to calculate everything, and in hindsight I can see that this position was a huge blessing for my family, but I had to make sure.
I told Sally that I’d get back to her on a Monday. The Sunday before, we had some company over, and Tristan, my 7-year-old starting acting up. It wasn’t all that unusual for him to make a scene when around others, but this time he was much louder and more irritating than usual. Eventually I had to send him to his room.
Once everyone was gone, I went to have a chat with Tristan. I asked him why he acted that way, and he said, “I just wanted attention.”
He was sitting on his bed wearing shorts and a green shirt. His blue-green eyes were a little dewy. “Do you not think I give you enough attention?” I asked.
He shrugged, sheepishly, and said, “You work a lot.”
I took a step back. Tristan was a smart kid, but I never thought he was that perceptive. I didn’t want to believe it, so I just finished out the conversation, reminding him how to act in public.
Once the kids were in bed, I brought up what Tristan said with Mel.
“I don’t work that much, do I?” I said. After I said the question, I realized I didn’t know how much I worked. I’d never added it up. It’s funny how that happens sometimes. I worked two jobs, both of them were salary, so I didn’t really keep track.
“You’re gone a lot,” she said. “And you work from home a lot.”
We added up how many hours I was working in a week, and the number was surprising. Just over 70 hours a week.
“I had no idea,” I said.
Mel nodded. Then she reminded me about how our second daughter, Norah, was struggling in school and about her own college work. “I’m having a hard time helping Norah because you are gone so much, and I’m trying to work on my classes.”
“Are we failing as parents?” I asked. “Am I becoming my father?”
Mel shrugged, “I don’t know. But what I can say is that I doubt this job will have you working as much as you do now. At least not from what I can tell.”
“You’re right,” I said.
The next day, I accepted the offer.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.