I was listening to this song this morning. Both Cindy and I noted what a powerful message that it brought. I must have sung this song over a hundred times through the years, but it really sunk in, especially now with my kids grown.
My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, dad
You know I’m gonna be like you.” – Harry Chapin, Cats in the Cradle
I have worked in the tech field as a systems engineer building out systems and networks since the 80’s. I even got my Red Hat Certified Engineer cert in 1999. I put it all into my career. As is the nature of the business, I was on call quite a lot. Since most of the time, I was the only one supporting a system or data center, I was on call all the time.
There were many times when I would have things planned with my kids and I would have to apologize to them and go to work. There was one time when we were on the way to a friends party in Rhode Island and I had to turn around because I got paged. I justified it by saying that this allowed me to make the decent money I did to give them the best I could. There was a time where we were rolling out new SCO Unix systems to plants across the country. I would work all day and come home, have a quick bite or eat at my desk in my office while I configured all the systems after the ground team got them deployed. I missed that whole part of their life. Of course it wasn’t always like this. I remember working for Georgia Pacific. I had a great boss at the time. He would come down the hall at 5p and say, “I quittin’ time!!!”. Heck, I was working a project that we needed to get done. I skipped my daughter’s recital to complete it. My boss reemed me. He told me that I should work under the premise, “Is anyone going to die? No, well then it is not that important!” He told me that he never wanted to hear me skipping out on one of my kid’s functions for the job ever again. Of course, as he climbed the ladder and became more corporatized, that changed. Soon, that attitude gave way to, I was to be on a plane every other week visiting plants. There were over forty and I had everything east of Waxahachie, Texas.
Those latter years with him, reshaped my view in that you had to sacrifice family for the job if you wanted to succeed. It is an ugly way of looking at life, but as more jobs went overseas, and fewer good paying jobs were at hand, you became more tied to your job. Of course, given my personal issues, I also had a negative image of self, so I felt that no one else would want me. I put up with a lot.
I will skip over my work history as it mostly was the same, I worked long hours and on call all the time. I often found myself going in during he middle of the night to solve outages, A/C issues, or networks down. More than once, I found myself on the roof in the middle of the night in all kinds of weather with the A/C tech. I couldn’t leave him up there alone. In one incident, we were on the roof during a winter storm that threw cold rain, snow, sleet and high winds. We got soaked through. While the tech could go home and get warmed up after, my job would just start as I had to bring all the systems back online. Of course, one refused to come up. I had to call HP support. Of course, they have four hours to respond. I am sitting around in wet clothes, cold and shivering. After doing the HP dance where they have you reseat everything, they finally said they would dispatch a tech. Um, they have four hours from dispatch. So a call at Midnight had me putting in a full day in soaking wet clothes. The response was that it was just the nature of the job.
I once got chewed out for not being on call when I wasn’t on call. I was told that I was always on call. I almost quit at that point, I was in the middle of the process and close to changing my name and all, so I was stuck. I will say that things have eased up a bit. I am back on normal call rotation, so every five weeks or so.
The point of this was to show how we can get so caught up in work that we soon forget what is important. I don’t know if work environments will ever get back to a place of work/life balance. Oh many companies talk the talk, but in practice, you are told that you need to be there no matter what. I would love to retire. I have heard of many people my age who got to retire. I have to go until I am 70, in order to maximize benefits. Hope I don’t drop before then.
All of this because I listened to a song and missed my kids. I thought back over all the opportunity that I had to spend time with them, but put the job first. Sometimes, you just have to turn off the phone. “live your life for what it’s worth, and live for every breath” (Black Sabbath, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath). Life is not work, life is living and sharing with those you love. Somehow, we have to change the paradigm that work is life. That becomes drudgery. While many of us enjoy our jobs, I think we would love more time with family. There truly has to be a work/life balance. By the way, whatever happened to that 35 hour work week we were all promised? Seems they all want 60 these days.
There is a lot that has gone on in my life. I really wish I had spent more time with my kids. I rarely see my son these days and if I do, it is just for short periods. My daughter touches base with me and we did have a great day going to get our nails done and lunch after. We have to do that again soon. You can’t get back what you lost, so take the time and spend it with your family.
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me – Harry Chapin, Cats in the Cradle
I hope that my boy doesn’t grow up just like me. I hope that when he has a family, he strives to put them first.
My heart to your heart, one heart, one spirit.
Emma Morgaine Croft