Recently I took a month long sabbatical from my work after having been there for 5 years. Very nice of them, especially considering the current financial problems with tech companies. During my time off, I went to Wisconsin so that Stacey could visit with her grandparents and I could hibernate from computers and my local friends, family, and neighbors. After doing a lot of reflecting, I decided that I didn’t like the direction I was going in, and that, despite my love for my daughter and the joy of watching her grow up, the money and job security I have, the nice house I live in, the friendliness of those I live with and around, and the free time I have to play and slack… despite all that, I was not on the path to fulfillment.
Only in America can a man have everything he needs and still be unsatisfied. That was what I thought at first, but as the month drew on, I began to feel like there was more to it than over-consumerism. You see, I’ve never been a greedy man.
When I first split up from my wife, I enjoyed going back to living simply. I had a small bookcase, chair, side table, and television in my new apartment’s living room, a bed with no frame, a computer and desk, and a few dishes and odds and ends I picked up at Walmart. I had no art on my walls, nothing “on display”, and I lived one mile from my work. My free time was well spent learning more coding tricks, reading new books I bought from Amazon, exercising at my work’s gym, and pampering my daughter. I learned how to cook a couple new dishes, and I learned the joy of bread baking and making pumpkin pies. A few knick-knacks, a little bit of space, and a daughter who loved me. That was my world, and it was enough.
What I have now is more than I want, and I feel blessed. What was unfulfilling was something else, and I sought out what it was.
Later in my sabbatical, my daughter turned 6. Having all the time in the world to plan and set things up, I, with the help of family and friends, threw her a wonderful birthday party and invited friends from her cheerleading group, her kindergarten class, her daycare, kids of my friends, and some kids from the neighborhood. The party was at my house, and I was the host. It felt good, and I think everyone had a good time. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the kids and I noticed that I was very comfortable around them. They all knew Stacey, and Stacey always brings out the best in me, but on top of that I felt comfortable being the sole party director while the other parents watched. It was cool.
Three days after the party, Stacey began the first grade. Her school is in walking distance from the house, so I walked her to school and walked her home from school in the afternoon. A couple times I brought along one of her younger friends who lives next door as a surprise. Stacey told me how first grade was different, and how her teacher, Mr. Thomas, did things differently than her Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Linkous, and how she wanted to go try hard even though school felt differently now. We talked about what was being taught, and when the library books had to go back, and she wondered when she would have to start doing homework. She talked about her friends from Kindergarten being in different classes, and how she had new kids to meet and liked them, and how she missed Lexie, who was at a different school now.
It was a whole new world to her, and it was wonderful. I remembered what it was like to listen to my daughter talk about things she had mixed feelings about, and to be full of eager anticipation. I remembered why I feel good being the strong base that she can come to when things are hard. I remember what it feels like to be proud when my daughter conquers something that she didn’t think she could. I fell in love with her again.
When I got back to work, I grew uneasy very quickly, and within a few days I sat down with my boss and said “Something isn’t right.” I told him that I needed to spend more time with my daughter while I had the chance, and this business of being 15 miles away until 5PM at night and fighting rush hour to get home and have a quick dinner with her before she went out to play and came back for bed… that I couldn’t live that way and had to find a way to be with her more before she grew up while I wasn’t watching, and we never knew each other. I was probably less frantic than that, but that was the gist of it.
He said he’d work on it, and that maybe I could work part time during the week and pick up some hours on the weekends or from home at night once in a while.
Still feeling unfulfilled, and now scared that my daughter would figure out the world while I wasn’t there to see it, I went to a school function where the teachers talk to the parents in their classrooms as a group and go over the curriculum and talk about teaching style, and try to feel out who the soccer moms, child abusers, apathetic parents, and narcissists were. Then Stacey’s teacher, Mr. Thomas, said something unexpected while describing his background.
“I didn’t have enough money to go to college, but I was blessed with the ability to play tennis, and I was able to get a scholarship. To make money during the summer, I taught tennis to kids, and I realized that I enjoyed working with them a lot. After thinking it over, I decided to retrain as a teacher.”
This reminded me of three things: The story of a balloon pilot I worked with, growing up poorer than dirt, and the birthday party.
Gail Turley was a balloon pilot that I crewed for in high school. I would get up at the crack of dawn, drive with the crew to some freezing, wet field, and either help hold open the envelope’s throat while a giant flame was shot at me, or I would get dragged around the field trying to hold the crown and the tens of thousands of cubic feet of air in the envelope in place while it was being inflated. I loved it. That, however, is another story.
Gail was an airplane pilot for years, and, as he tells the story, he took one ride in a hot air balloon and decided that he had been flying the wrong thing all these years, quit his job, bought a balloon of his own, and started a company selling rides. God rest his soul. He died some years back, and he was a strong and decent man, and a worthy example to try to live up to.
I did grow up dirt poor, but I never believed that I was poor, or stupid, or incapable. I held onto a belief that I could survive and get through hard times, get a job that didn’t involve digging ditches, and lead a happy life. I believed in myself, and that was enough. I escaped poverty with hard work and faith in my brain and my abilities. That, too, is another story.
The birthday party. I wanted to be with the kids and not so much their parents. My daughter was happy and her friends and family were with her. It had a kind of harmony to it that is hard to describe. It was Right.
Slowly, it all came together. A man I respect left a life he was comfortable in to seek out greater fulfillment. I believed in myself and was able to affect change in my life. I felt drawn to and comfortable with the kids, and suddenly realised that I had been comfortable around kids for years. The epiphany finally hit me: I want to give up a career in computers and build a new one working with children.
It made sense. I love watching my kid grow, and I enjoy trying to teach her things. I was inexperienced at first, but she was patient as I learned how to be a dad and a mentor. Her friends respond well to me, and when they come over to play with Stacey or sleep over, I think I’m almost as sad as Stacey to see them go. I think child care or education would come naturally to me at this point.
Moving forward, I’m going to be happier. Sometimes I’ll be dead broke, frustrated when things don’t go as smooth as I’d like. Sometimes doors will be shut on me because I am a man, and some of my friends will look at me sidelong and wonder what happened to the man I used to be. But ultimately this will bring the fulfillment I’ve been longing for. Ultimately I will walk the earth like a giant, hopefully being a positive influence in the lives of the kids near me.
What happened to the man I used to be? I think I’m a lot stronger now. My clear goal and determination has quickened me, and the hope I have for the future reminds me of the love of life I had in my own youth. Yes, I am stronger now, and more of a man than the man I used to be.
My work is being helpful by adjusting to my new path. Offers from various volunteer organizations are coming in, and my skill with the computer will be a nice wedge to open doors. School is just around the corner. What I’ve been seeking has been with me for some time, and I am reminded of a conversation I had a long time ago with my genius daughter…
“Oh, Stacey, my job makes me angry some times. Everybody and there broken computers. Sheesh.”
“Maybe you should do another job.”
“Yeah, I suppose. What else am I good at?”
“You’re good at being a daddy..”