Six years ago I had put my career as a social worker on hold to become a stay-at-home dad, a role in which I truly relished but found immensely more challenging than I had assumed it would be. I had served in the trenches as a caregiver for adults with disabilities and had already changed the diaper of a 300 pound man with behavioral issues while getting punched in the head on regular basis. Changing an 8 pound infant’s diaper was a piece of cake in comparison. The turds were so dainty.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the social isolation and the loss of personal identity that accompanied this transition of roles. The decision to take on the role of stay-at home parent was made primarily because my wife was suffering from severe postpartum depression and it just seemed to make sense to structure our newly consolidated family in this way. Plus, she made a bit more money than I did and had a better health insurance plan.
Shortly after our daughter’s first birthday my wife received news that she had been accepted into a graduate program in Colorado studying hydrology and groundwater. So we packed up our tiny pickup truck and left our home in Anchorage, Alaska for the long migration to Colorado. I would be returning to the workforce as she passed the torch of primary breadwinner to me. She would be juggling the roles of part-time stay at home mom and full time student.
Now six years have passed and our family is once again in transition, my wife has completed her graduate program and recently accepted a position as hydrologist with an engineering firm out in San Diego. She is already out there and started her first day of work this past Monday, leaving my daughter and I to tie up loose ends in Colorado before joining her at the end of the summer.
Professionally I find myself in transition again, or more effectively limbo as I begin my employment search. When my wife was given the official job offer for her new position we sat down as partners and as a family and weighed the pros and cons. Together we decided that San Diego made sense. It was a chance to live by the ocean but more importantly an opportunity for her career to really take off. Hydrology is a niche field and you have to go where the jobs are. She worried about me though, knowing that I would be giving up a job I loved – working with men and boys, promoting concepts of responsible fatherhood and healthy relationships. I joked that it would be OK. “I’m a social worker. I can find work anywhere…there are people with problems all over the place!”
The next day at work I prepared to tell my boss of the impending closure to my employment. In a weird twist of fate before I could tell her I was basically offered a promotion, pending the interview process. Damn. Talk about poor timing.
As I processed this missed opportunity with my wife, I could truly feel her empathy for my situation and both of us began second guessing our newly hatched master plan. I realized that I was indeed grieving at the loss of hands down the best job of my career but worse yet I found myself justifying and rationalizing the loss through the lens of my role as a pro-feminist partner and father. I began to have internal dialogs eulogizing myself as some selfless martyr to the cause of women in the workplace.
“I’m taking one for the team.You know, in support of women in engineering. It will be healthy for my daughter to have a strong female role model excelling in science. After all she wants to be a marine biologist, my wife will be opening doors for her.”
I’m happy to say that with a little help from some friends I quickly got over myself.
Parenting and marriage is all about partnership and compromise. Some times my wife takes the lead, sometimes I do. Sometimes her career takes precedence, sometimes mine does. It’s a give and take, an ebb and flow, a constant mindfulness to what will be in the best interest of our entire family. After all, I would be lying to myself if I didn’t acknowledge that new opportunities for growth and exploration await for all of us in the San Diego.
Besides, our daughter already has the perfect job picked out for me – ticket taker at Sea World so her and my wife can get in for free when I’m working.