The Fatherhood Economy: Spend Time, Pay Attention

When I was pregnant with our first child, a stack of pre-natal and parenting books towered perilously high on my bedside table.

On my husband’s side of the bed was a single book for first-time fathers, bought by some well-intentioned friend (okay, maybe it was me). Giving our “friend” the benefit of the doubt, at the time there weren’t many fatherhood books to choose from. And maybe this friend didn’t read the Table of Contents. Had she, she’d have known that the book’s sole message to fathers-to-be was: You Man. You Earn Money.

I discovered this one night as we lay in bed preparing for parenthood in the way we lawyers knew how – reading, studying – and I heard him groan. I turned in time to see him holding that book, his face contorted with disappointment, the words crushing his natural excitement for his impending fatherhood.

When he explained why, I grabbed the book, checked the publication date, looking for the 1950 copyright. Nope, it was current. I tossed it aside. “That’s ridiculous.” But the genie was out.

When our first baby boy was born, we agreed I’d stay home to care for him. My husband stepped up and became the sole money-earner in our family, at least until I wanted to go back to lawyering. (Still waiting for that desire to materialize…) Over the years, he has provided for our family while staying true to his playful nature, placing time with his kids above everything. As he’s made career moves, each time he has prioritized the ability to spend time with his family. Speaking for my kids and myself, we are grateful for the law-partnership-path not taken. We like having him around.

Yet that manly-provider-thing still haunts him. A few days ago, he confessed that he had been daydreaming about returning to a law firm so that we could have more money, live in a bigger house in a fancier neighborhood, even though it would mean more hours in the office. Worse, he was indulging that waking nightmare while bouncing on the trampoline with our first-grader, usually their happy place.

Breaking into his father’s thoughts, our airborne joy boy said, “Daddy, don’t you wish I only had school and you only had work on Monday and Thursday, and we could play all day all the other days?”

Just like that, he brought him back from the brink.

Recently, a Cornell professor wrote  about life lessons older Americans had for the rest of us. Chief among them, Don’t worry so much about money. Spend time with your family. Say yes to adventures.

These are modern day self-evident truths, but they are slippery, easy to lose hold of, especially with messages like the one in that loathsome book so pervasive. But being a great Dad does not mean being the best financial provider on the block. Does your family really need the latest greatest iPhone? The fanciest cars? The biggest Bar Mitzvah party? I didn’t think so.

Repeat after me: “The time I spend with my kids, present and focused and looking in their eyes is worth more than any pirate’s treasure, more than any winning lottery ticket, more than any golden parachute.” No amount of money can buy it back once it’s gone.

Try putting that on your bookshelf.

19 thoughts on “The Fatherhood Economy: Spend Time, Pay Attention

  1. I love this entry, Laura! This speaks to our family completely… Daddy and family time are the most important essentials in raising kids, as you know, we have them for such a short time before they’re off to college. Eddie works while they are at school and sleeping. We feel so fortunate to have him around so much!! Thanks for sharing all your wonderful, inspiring and humorous stories with us!

    • We are lucky families who are able to make this happen. But, as you know, it’s not only luck. It’s also making choices. Thank you so much for your comment. I love hearing how the posts connect with people.

  2. This is a great post and I hope all fathers (and soon-to-be fathers) take heed. In the 18+ years I’ve been a father, I’ve failed at many things. It took me forever to finally get my first college degree (I’m struggling through a Masters right now). My career could probably be better and farther along. And of course, my writing definitely needs improvement. But the one area of success I’ve had involves my wife and kids. I can honestly say I’ve done a pretty damn good job there. If any man can look themselves in the mirror every morning and say that without reservation, they’ve done well IMHO. If they can’t, they probably need to re-evaluate their priorities.

    • What a great example you are. If there is one place where doing our best matters most, I believe it’s with our families. (Just think of the fatherhood example you are setting — your grandchildren, and their children, will be the beneficiaries!)

  3. Lovely entry — and yours kids really do have the best dad in California! …well, one of the best, anyway. I don’t want my words coming back to bite me on the behind. 🙂

  4. i dig what eric posted. money can’t buy happiness, love or anything else. a person present for those in his life isn’t made easier or harder by issues of money. it’s an issue of prioritization and practice.

    financially, we all have minimum core needs, but – after that – the rest is gravy. i read somewhere recently that “the gravy” (as that figure is currently defined) is any salary over $75,000/year salary. after that…. more money doesn’t make life any easier.

    another good message, laura, thank you!

    • It’s true what you say. Yet it is too easy to find more “needs” all the time, isn’t it? Sounds like it’s time for a spiritual garage sale, get rid of what we don’t need. Sunday, 8am. No early birds. 🙂

  5. I love this!

    We have chosen to live in a small apartment so that my husband has more time with us and so that we can spend our money on more important things. Sometimes it feels like a sacrifice….but it really is a blessing.

  6. Yes! Love this! My husband is the sole provider in our family as well, so that I can be a SAHM, but he prioritizes his Coast Guard career moves around what will allow him to spend the most time with the kids and I. I feel very lucky that he is both our financial provider AND spends lots of time with us. Lucky family indeed! 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment. It’s not always easy to make choices that are different than the mainstream, but that’s a great model for the kids, too: follow your heart, use your own judgment. If only I could do that more often!

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