I wake up at 7 in the morning; these days, I try to clock a good 8 hours of slumber, which is much more than the average parent can ask for, so it doesn’t usually take much effort for me to dig myself out of bed. I wake my son up, and we brush our teeth and get dressed. I make him his sandwich while he’s wearing his socks, and I make sure his bag is all packed – spare school clothes, water bottle, and on some days, something for him to bring for show and tell – before we give the Mother and the Sister of Xander their first kisses of the day, and leave for the morning.
After I drop Xan off at school, I head to work. Some days, I might have enough time to eat before stepping into the office. But by 9am (9.30am at the latest) I’m paid about $18.75 an hour to supply an indefinite amount of words, wit and, on occasion, my knowledge and experience in the name of advertising.
At the end of every work day, when I decide to leave at 6pm sharp. I do so knowing I leave a trail of talk behind my back. To some, my leaving on the dot is an inconsiderate act, a disruption of work processes, a disregard for timeliness, even disrespect. This mindset exists not just in my own workplace, but in many organisations around Singapore, if not the world, wherever there exists such things as an “office” or a “work culture”.
But I have to say something in defense of those that disagree with my incorrigible punctuality. I did say it myself: I decide to leave at 6pm sharp every day. I have a choice. Of course I do. Everything we do is a choice. It just doesn’t seem like it when I explain why 6pm is my magic hour.
You see, my son’s school, which is 45 minutes away from my workplace by train and peak-hour Shenton Way human traffic, charges a fine of $1 per minute should a parent be late in picking up his or her child, so I have to pay a touch more than one hour’s salary if I’m late for just 19 minutes (for justification of the math, see paragraph 2). That aside, my son’s last meal would have been a half-fold peanut butter and jam sandwich I made for him and a packet of milk at about 3-4 hours before school ends, so he will be famished by the time I get to him, making it imperative that he have his dinner by 7.30pm. And if you ever get to see the face he wears when I happen to be the last parent to reach his school, you’d make sure I always pick him up from school in time, too.
Still, I choose to.
Some will choose to make establishing their career the utmost priority, setting out, in properly planned and measured steps with varying degrees of speed, effort, and single-mindedness, to achieve – or exceed – industry benchmarks recognised nationwide, across regions, or around the world, if not for the full satisfaction of personal achievement.
Some will choose to take care of the very fundamental, physiological needs. In a nation like ours, this is in itself a tall mountain to climb, and its peak seems to grow with every passing year (or perhaps by our own insatiable tendency, we shift our own goalposts more frequently than we can catch up to our goal).
I once chose career over life. Then I quit a five-year stint with a company very dear to me because I found myself missing one too many milestones in Xander’s first year.
Then I took on work in a bid to clear my own financial debt from trying to shoot at goalposts I could never reach. But the emotional debt that took its place proved too much to bear; I left a very stable job at a law firm because I had too much empathy to hold on to a job that earned its keep from very messy family breakdowns.
Next, I tried my hand at self-actualisation, and decided I wanted to pursue a dream. But as a full-time writer for a grand total of 2 months minus 2 days after my law firm stint, I learned the hard way that an online publication with content geared towards parents and parents-to-be (you know the one) doesn’t necessarily mean they are run or written by parents, much less a parent-friendly employer; in this case, not by a long shot.
Throughout all the job-hopping, career switches, bad life decisions, and that year-long, nearly incomeless period of wondering what happened and what will happen next, my wife stood by my side, making sure our son was taken care of with one arm, and with the other, working on me while I worked on life. My son continues to love me because I am first and foremost his father, and for the last 5 years of his life, he made sure I knew that. Even on days when I’m the last to pick him up from school, when I see his disappointed face follow me to the car, and I apologise, and he takes a deep breath, looks me in the eye, and says “It’s okay, daddy.”
So, which do you think I would choose to prioritise: people who would grumble about me leaving on time after work, or a 5-year-old boy who will readily forgive me for being late, and still call me Daddy?
To my current company, clients and colleagues, I do apologise for inconveniencing your evening of clearing in-trays and requiring that office work be done after office hours . I cannot say enough that I love my current job immensely, more than anything I’ve ever done in my career up to this point, and for 8 hours every weekday, rest assured I will fully dedicate my life to the service of this organisation.
And from hard-earned, mostly painful experience, I also cannot stress enough that no one – not this organisation, nor you, nor me – can ever guarantee that any of us will still be working in this company, with each other, by this time next year.
But what I can and will guarantee is that I will be there for my family, and my family will be there for me, for the rest of our lives. That’s a promise my wife and I made to each other the day we got married. It’s a promise we made to Xander the moment he was born. And we are all committed to making sure Yvie gets all the love she can get from us.
I have to guarantee this because I chose to be an active father.