It’s an ordinary Monday, in that blurry space between autumn and winter, when the sun seems to beat a hasty retreat into alternate hemispheres. I am sitting on a beat-up plastic chair watching a boy – my son – go through non-stop drills at football practice, his orange football boots reflecting the fading sun’s rays. Twice a week, most weeks, I sit watching my son at football practice. This particular Monday, when he is done, we hop into the car, rush through to pick up his younger sister from kindergarten and head through to swimming lessons. And, at home, I sit with him as he does his homework. I believe that this is partly what being a father is about. Being available to my children.
Two years ago, my reality was very different. I was working in a fulfilling but high-pressure job that required me to be out constantly and involved regular travel. That year, I was attending about two events a week, writing articles constantly and did about six international trips. I went to Germany – Stuttgart specifically – for one night, leaving on a Monday evening and landing back home on a Thursday morning. Dropping off my then seven-year-old son at school the Monday morning, his response to my telling him I would be away was an extremely nonchalant “Ok, see you.” He was used to having Skype conversations with from random hotel rooms. If I phoned instead, it wasn’t uncommon for either of my children to not want to speak to me because they were ‘busy’ to talk.
Even when I was home, in reality, I wasn’t because my mind was often on the work and trying to keep up on weekends, because there weren’t enough hours in the day. And there were days when I just wanted to do nothing – watch football, vegetate, sleep – but there was never time. It’s like walking off a plane at the height of summer in Accra; it is so humid even the air is heavy, making it hard to breathe.
There are few things as disheartening as the moment when you realize that you are living a parallel life to your family, that they have their routine, their ‘things’ that go ahead with or without you. I was a visitor.
Being an adult isn’t child’s play. Eventually, something had to give and that something was my prestigious job as editor of the men’s business and lifestyle magazine. Ok, there were two other considerations but a large part of my decision was based on being a firm believer in the ‘presence over presents’ parenting approach.
It may have taken me over a year but the day I walked away from the job and into my home office was the day I became happier. It was the first day in the weight that I was carrying – though I didn’t realize I was carrying it – became lighter. It took me a couple of weeks to find a new rhythm – and for my children to get used to my being home all the time, especially when they got home from school. My work life hasn’t become easier – building a new business never is. But being clearer on the fact that I work to be able to provide for my family, and myself, and making decisions accordingly, has enhanced my day-to-day.
Even when I miss moments – like a rugby match or a school event – it doesn’t feel as bad because they know that I am there, as much as I can, all the other times.
I have a lot more control over my schedule and work commitments. I decide on the projects I want to get involved in taking my children’s schedule and lives into consideration. I make decisions on the basis of the lifestyle I am working to build for us as a family. This is all good. Malcolm X said, “the future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” I prepare for it every day because my future involves being able to create a foundation for my children. That is the intention I work with, today. Tomorrow? We’ll have to wait until then.
Writer: Kojo Baffoe