A Day in the Life of a Working Active Father

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.

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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.

19 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a Working Active Father”

  1. Sorry. Mama will resume chauffeur duties soon. I’m assuming the ones talking behind your back are single and without children? We cannot expect them to understand and they won’t have a clue what we go through until they get to this point themselves. To survive workplace politics, you no longer have to just “do your work well”, you need to manage gossip mongers as well. I doubt anything you do or not do will ever appease the likes of them so just ignore them and use the Stress Away I gave you the other day ok?

    This kind of gossip mongers ah, will tio KARMA! KARMA! May they tio lizard poo in the office and bird poo outside the office! *cough* ok… kidding kidding ok?

  2. Since my working days, I always leave on dot, even though I am a daddy now. So long as work is done, I dont really see the need to stay on and buah ling long. =)

    Though I am self employed now, I still have to ensure my meeting/ assignment ends early in order to fetch my kids from Childcare centre. Daddy duities, yah?

    1. Self-employment takes a whole different level of self-discipline, doesn’t it? People may think because you run the show, you call the shots, but in reality, the prioritisation of being with family vs. providing for the family gets really tangled up.

  3. Hi Blogfather/Winston, I’m the same, maybe even more thick-skinned. 🙂 I leave office punctually most days. I tell people that I may have knocked off from work, but I’m just going to another job: Daddy Duty, which doesn’t really end until 9.30pm+. I’ve long convinced myself that family is more important than work, even though I’m a sole breadwinner. In any case, Singaporeans work too much, to the detriment of our health, family, happiness and even our productivity. I wish our esteemed leaders would get it into their head that to improve productivity, one must nowadays focus on creating genuine work-life balance, that which creates happiness; and not all this useless talk about working faster/cheaper/better and pumping more money into productivity “schemes”. And they ask us to have more babies. 🙂

    About colleagues who are single or have no kids: I no longer try to challenge them. Too many nowadays, can’t expect them to understand, even when they sympathize. I often tell them not to work so hard and don’t OT so much. 🙂

  4. Haiz… We can totally relate. The fact that the kids are so understanding about the ‘have to work’ thing makes it worse.

    It’s all in their eyes. How to live with it?

  5. I love this! It’s the culture here. I don’t get it. Staying late / leaving after the boss = hardworking? I’ve had colleagues who stayed till 8pm every day just so they could take a taxi home and claim the fare.

    I remember when I went back to work when P was about 2, and I was one of two mothers on the team. I knew some of them were talking behind my back, about why I left work at 6pm everyday, while the other mum stayed back till (guess what) 8pm. I never addressed it. Didn’t feel the need to. My work spoke for itself. And, my kids only have one mum.

    Winston, you go, girl! I mean, well, you know.

  6. for a moment i thought i was reading about myself. i’m also in the same situation as you and it was a crime to leave 6pm to go fetch the kid. i must always sneak out quietly to the door, drifting out of office and quickly into the lift without people noticing a hedious crime has been committed…

  7. no body fucks around with the family…if a father promises to be on time…he has to lead by example…no one..not even the company should tell you what time you should leave…staying in the office until the boss leaves is not a good indicator of productivity or hadworking..in fact to me…(maybe because i work in many MNCs prior) ….it is a sign of inefficiency…people have to manage their time…be efficient clear things out of the way….so that they can do bigger things… but that is my point of view

  8. Those talking obviously didn’t read about this article that’s been floating around on the various social media platforms : https://medium.com/business-marketing/a988c17383a6
    I’ve learnt that there will always be talk whether you leave on time a not. There will always be a bone to pick with and it usually stems from inferiority. Why can he/she do it and I can’t? No one usually bothers to find out the whys, reasons, situations for it.
    Kudos to knowing your priorities (maybe you should try my ex company culture for a change – pro family!) and sticking to them no matter what!

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