I know three men who are brothers. They’re not LDS, but their story can easily apply to us. The eldest is a wealthy international lawyer whose work takes him all over the globe. He and his wife have three children who have lived a life of wealth and privilege. They’ve given their kids the best schooling, the most lavish trips, and closets filled with designer clothing. The mother has always stayed home with the children, and volunteers in multiple charities.
The next brother is a climbing star in the world of finance. Nearly as busy as his eldest brother, he puts in long hours trying to duplicate the extravagant lifestyle he sees his elder brother enjoying. His wife is equally committed to this goal and works on call as an emergency room nurse, often through the night. Their two children grew up in day care and after-school programs to accommodate their parents’ work schedules.
The third brother, whom I’ll call Chad, has always been seen, by his brothers, as a slacker. He didn’t have the corporate mentality and chose a job that paid a small salary, but allowed him more hours at home. His family lives in a large trailer in the country where he and his wife home school their five children.
I’ve watched these three families for twenty years, until all the children have grown up and left the nest, save for the last brother’s two youngest. And there has been a startling revelation. The eldest brother recently said, “You know, we always thought Chad was the one who got it wrong. But Chad got to see his kids grow up.”
And there it hung, the terrible realization that the two eldest brothers had missed all those bonding moments that fatherhood is supposed to be about. In their haste to be wealthy and acclaimed (and using the excuse that they were being exceptional providers), they sacrificed the only thing that really mattered—their relationships with their children.
The Absent Dad Problem
Were these older brothers abusive, addicted, or engaged in criminal activity? No. Theirs were sins of omission. They missed all the homework, the ballgames, the scraped knees, the shared concerns. They missed the chance to teach moral values, to share a laugh, to show real love and caring. They became robots who generated paychecks.
Today the first brother’s kids are living thousands of miles away, pursuing their own similar fortunes. They rarely call. They have no warm memories of their dad, unless a suitcase waiting by the front door counts as a warm memory. Their mother wasn’t as present as they’d have liked, either. Her charity work seemed paramount.
The second son’s children both rebelled in college, finally snapping after years of pressure to excel. When their best efforts still didn’t yield the love or the time from Mom and Dad that they longed for, they gave up. Both are on self-destructive paths the parents can’t understand.
But the third brother, the one they pitied all these years, has a close-knit family of children who love their parents, visit often (or live close by), and who think of their father as a great and amazing man.
Unfortunately, the lessons were learned too late and the elder brothers can’t go back in time to recreate childhood memories for their kids. Yes, they can reach out now and try to build something one step at a time. And something is better than nothing. But there is genuine loss here, the missed opportunity to forge the unbreakable bonds of love that happen in childhood, or not at all.
Providing for one’s family is not the problem. Failing to make your children your priority is the problem. And, in many communities, these absent dads create the cancerous problem of young men who search for authority and find those male role models in gangs.
The Day Care Problem
For many, day care is an absolute necessity, or families starve. Many parents whose partners are no longer in the picture face a choice they never wanted to make, a choice that brings them anguish every single day. But they bite the bullet and enroll their kids in day care and after school care, trying their best to create loving bonds with the time they have.
But how many families do you know whose children are in day care not because of necessity, but because their parents are too proud to live in an apartment and want the extra income to afford the bigger house/car/boat? A friend of mine works in a junior high school and says she can glance out her window at lunchtime, observe how the kids are behaving, and tell you which ones grew up in day care and which ones had stay-at-home moms.
The Stay-at-Home Mom Problem
There’s a myth that stay-at-home moms are superior. Many of them are wonderful. But too many are as negligent as the world-traveling executive who’s missing his children’s growing up years. They spend hours on the computer, on the phone, watching television, and otherwise occupying themselves while their children are in the next room running amok. They aren’t engaging with their kids. They may as well be working in an office somewhere, equally unavailable to their kids.
The ideal, of course, is parents who are not only at the same address, but focused on their kids. Hovering constantly, no. But involved and tuned in, yes. When either parent can possibly be there, and is playing or teaching or listening to their children, that’s the optimum climate for creating family bonds.
Like so many of our decisions, the ones we make early on can have far-reaching impact. New couples starting out often have stars in their eyes and grand dreams of the luxuries their careers can provide. But just like getting on the wrong airplane, that path doesn’t lead to the final destination you want. The jet might look modern and filled with amenities, but if it isn’t going where you want to go, why board? There are many enticing options out there, some which offer wealth and status. But usually the airfare is much more than you really want to pay.
Listen to Hilton’s radio advice show at blogtalkradio.com/jonihilton on Thursdays at 2pm PST. And be sure to read her blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com. Hilton’s latest three novels, Jungle, Sisters in the Mix, and Pinholes Into Heaven are available at Amazon, www.mormonbooksandauthors.com, and in paperback at Createspace.com.
Her most recent LDS comedy is Funeral Potatoes—The Novel (Covenant Communications), available in LDS bookstores. She currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California