Shanah Tovah, everyone. I hope your Rosh Hashanah was remarkable and moving, and that the Days of Awe are profound.
I wanted to break into your journey of teshuvah for a moment to share this short but provocative piece by Eliza Khuner, a data scientist who left her dream job at Facebook when she realized that her job was getting in the way of the most important parts of parenting.
As a father, I feel her pain, but in a different way. I blew it when my son was a toddler, working long hours at the office and traveling. I made the mistake of thinking that since I was able to be the sole breadwinner and my wife had a lot of help around the house with the baby that I had done my bit as a dad. I was wrong, of course. I missed out a lot, and not just because I didn’t change diapers (I did, in my defense, empty the Diaper Genie.)
The good news is that I woke up just in time to save both my marriage and my relationship with my son. When my son was two I started working from home on half pay (and full work). I did that for a year, then quit my job. I started working for myself, and I have been working from home ever since. Even when my little firm was aqui-hired by my current company when my son was eleven, it was with the explicit assurance (which I did not have to work hard to elicit) that I would be able to work from home when not traveling.
The result has been incredible I have driven my son to and from school, picked him up from countless activities. I have known all of his teachers, cheered him at basketball games, shared the tension of robotics competitions, and spent countless hours talking to him and listening to him. I rejoined Scouts when he put on his first uniform, and have been his Den Leader, his Cubmaster, and now his Assistant Scoutmaster. We have been camping together, boating together, traveling together, and he is sixteen and we enjoy hanging out.
I have also had an amazing career – very different from the one I thought I had when he was born, but in so many respects a better one. And I can see now that the reason it was better was because of that balance, that choice to be a parent first, and whatever was on my business card second.
I say this not in sanctimony, not as a humble brag, but in wonder and gratitude. I am fully aware that not everyone has the opportunities that I do, or the choices that I had. But I want that for them, for all of us, because I think our children are improved, we are improved, and the world is improved when we are parents first, and whatever else after.
There is only so much we can do as individuals. The nature of work and of social expectations must change. I am heartened that my company and others are beginning to realize that parenthood and families need not be sacrificed on the altar of corporate success, but the exceptions prove the rule. We have a long way to go, and, with respect to Sheryl Sandberg, leaning in is not the entire answer. Indeed, I have reached the point in my career where I have come to realize that Sandberg is selling the same old Company Man join-the-rat-race-or-die snake oil that wound up destroying uncounted lives and families for the sake of quarterly returns for companies that mostly imploded in the last quarter of the 20th century.