The EFM Feature

Regarding those two things I’ve not yet mastered and probably never will, here’s a moving e-mail from reader David, not to be confused with agitator/blogger David:

I read with interest your comments on David French’s article on work/life balance. Thank you for the pointer to his article on Six Seeds and the invitation to “Discuss!” When I was still in school, attended a speech that delivered pretty much the same message as the one delivered by David to the group of law students. I was told not to be “that guy” who said, “I have to go home because my family is important to me.” The speaker said, “Always remember, the person you’re speaking to most likely loves his family as much as you do.” I’ve tried to keep that advice in mind as I’ve struggled to balance my professional and community obligations with my commitments to my family.
My beautiful bride and I have been blessed with three children. Our youngest is a junior in college. Her older brother hopes to start his graduate studies in January. So, we’re a bit farther along life’s journey that you and I hope you’ll allow me to offer some advice based on our experience. First, David’s right (isn’t he usually?): there are some things more important than being at home at 5:30 each evening. David put this into the context of a warrior being away from home to protect home and country. I’ll put it the question in more mundane terms. Is it possible for a man to be a good husband and father while working in a profession that takes him out of the home? I believe so. My father was an airline pilot. For much of my youth, he was home an average of 10 days a month. The rest of the month he was overseas doing the work that made it possible for us to live in our home. Despite his absence, he was an excellent father and had a positive influence on our lives and the development of character of his children.

Based, in part, on his struggles to be a good father while meeting the demands of his profession, my dad counseled me to become a professional. He said his inability to control his work schedule prevented him from serving as my Scoutmaster or being as involved with my activities as much as he’d have liked. I don’t believe he understood the pressures involved in a professional’s life. A doctor is always on call. And, while my wife keeps reminding me there’s no such thing as a tax emergency, my ability to control my schedule isn’t nearly as great as my dad thought it might be. I’ve had to cancel more than one vacation over the years to meet an unexpected client need. I even conducted a conference call while waiting in line for the Matterhorn with my son at Disneyland.

Despite these pressures and the need to work, on average, more than 50 hours a week, I think I’ve been a good father to our children. Like my father before me, I’ve made my role as father a priority. In our home, we have prayer as a family at 7:00am (even when I cannot participate because I’ve already left for work). We also pray together before going to bed each evening. Our children learned to read by participating in our family early-morning scripture study where we each take turns reading (I read on verse, the person to my right reads the next, the person on the right reads the next, etc.). Those early-morning scripture readings may have only taken ten to fifteen minutes, but they left no doubt in the minds of our children the importance their parents place on the Bible (and, yes, the other scriptures we Mormons enjoy). We set aside an evening each week which we would spend together as a family. In the early years, those evenings involved a gospel based lesson that was prepared by my wife and delivered by one of our children (with the assistance of Mom or Dad). I made sure I took the time to regularly interview my children – typically on a Sunday afternoon – to see how “life” was going for them. And, when possible, I’ve tried to work side-by-side with them doing chores around the house.

Through all of this, the loudest lecture my children have ever heard from me is the way I’ve lived my life. They’ve never hear me cuss (no one at work has heard that, either). They’ve seen my wife and me engage in small acts of service for our friends and neighbors. We’ve involved them in several conspiracies to serve others without being caught. (For a few months when we lived in Texas, we were the “Church Phantom” – delivering goodies anonymously to those of our faith in the area.) Our children have seen their parents spend countless hours preparing Sunday School lessons, preparing meals for the sick, or otherwise trying to do what good Christians (if you’ll forgive my appropriation of the title) are supposed to be doing. In short, we live as we teach.

If you’ll do likewise – set aside time for your family to teach them and then live what you teach – I’m sure you’ll be a great father, even if your professional obligations take you out of the home more than you’d like.

My main thought: I’d be willing to bet that the statement “Always remember, the person you’re speaking to most likely loves his family as much as you do” is much less reliably true outside the Mormon community (of which reader David is obviously a part). Including in the communities of those who are going to send me grumpy e-mails for saying what I just said.

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

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