I have a nice balance between home and work life, at the moment, and I think I owe most of the credit for this to my dad.
I know that sounds trite, but my dad is a really hard worker. When I was growing up he followed the so-called Protestant work ethic. He didn’t have the religion but he had the ethos - hardly missing a day of work as a draftsman, then advisor, with the State Electricity Commission of Victoria. He was one man in more-or-less, one job, for thirty-five years. This is a feat of endurance that many of my generation would consider a kind of self-abuse or a prison sentence, but he survived. I can’t say he came out unscathed, but he survived.
At home we were one mum, one dad and three boys. Mum taught exercises in the back shed. Later she studied “diversional therapy” and worked in adult day care. But when I came home from school, she was always there. Dad would arrive some time around dusk and whisk us away in the sky-blue Volkswagen “kombi” for camping holidays in the summer and at long weekends. My most significant memory of my childhood is the months of long service leave that dad took when I was six. We got to hang out together for months on end - day and night - as he drove us up the East Coast to a tropical wonderland. My childhood was idyllic in a kind of 1970s, pre-digital way.
My dad’s job at the SEC was eventually “economically rationalised”. He took “the package”. Looking back, I think it happened just in the nick of time. I remember, as a 17-year-old, staggering home very early one morning - after a blinder - and dad almost running me over on his way to work. His eyes were open as he drove the car, but he wasn’t there. He hadn’t seen me. He was on autopilot. His work had made such a groove in his life that he was just going through the motions. I dived into the gutter and decided I’d never work that hard. I’d never loose myself in a job like he’d done.
Dad helped me get my first job out of school: as an apprentice gardener with the local council. He said it was a good job and, if I played my cards right, I’d have it for life. I worked hard but never stopped dreaming of doing something different. I got my trade qualifications, and then my job was “economically rationalised”. I was offered re-employment under contract with the new, amalgamated council. But, one afternoon, my boss whispered to me that I should go back to school. It was that or push a mower for the rest of my days.
My boss gave me the impetus and my dad supported my decision to step outside the “one man, one job, one life” ethic. I reinvented my work-self again and again in a long train of self-discovery, including massage, counselling, professional musicianship, landscaping, hypnotherapy and a host of gap-filler jobs in the service industries.
And I fell in love. I had a few rough starts but dad assured me when the right person came along, I’d know she was “the one”. Maybe I just subscribed to his romantic vision of the world, but I eventually found her. She came fitted with two gorgeous girls (a five and six-year-old) from a previous relationship. We had an instant family experience that we complimented with a child of our own a couple of years later.
I had a work life and a family life, but I was skewed towards the work life. My experiences of growing up were good and I wanted to give my kids the same. Better. I wanted to be there like my dad had been during his long service leave. I even bought the “kombi” - a green heap that cost us a lot of money and gave us a lot of pain.
When our little bloke was three-months-old, my wife was ready to go back to work. She’d done her fair share of parenting with the girls and could bring home a better income than I could anyway, so it made good sense for us. Childcare didn’t seem like a feasible option for me. Why pay somebody to do something you’re yearning to do yourself? Being a home dad - or, as my brother says, “a professional boy farmer” - was something that challenged me and fed me when I didn’t know I was hungry.
I learned how mind-numbing daytime television was. I learned how vulnerable you can feel if you’re not the one bringing the money into the household. And I discovered all the things I’d been missing - the little things that are family-sized “miracles” - like all the steps along the way as the boy started to speak, crawl and walk, and become a little man. I skewed - very nicely, thank you - towards family.
My wife was the primary breadwinner but I still had a few work interests that were a welcome distraction from housework. I was working on a novel (isn’t everybody?), maintaining a website selling Australian didjeridus to the world, and producing a newsletter for the didjeridu-playing community. We bought our house in the country for $32,000 and decided to go with a Hyundai instead of the BMW Z3. I guess that’s “internal economic rationalisation”.
When the little bloke found an afternoon sleeping pattern that suited him, I used the time to write - usually a couple of hours a day, maximum. I wrote some articles for Earth Garden magazine and got paid for them ($150 for about six weeks worth of writing and editing!). Then the floodgates opened. I found something new that I enjoyed - something that needed a good balance of head and heart to be worthwhile, something I could do as time permitted - from the comfort of my own home - that fitted with my family life, and something that brought in the cash. So, as the boy grew older and went to school, instead of going out and finding meaningful full-time work, I took on a few part-time contractual jobs, and my good woman supported us while I wrote.
I write novels for money now. It’s not a huge income but it’s supported by my work as a speaker - visiting schools and festivals, inspiring (I hope) young people and adults to read and write their hearts out. I work from home, on average, three or four days a week - during school hours - and travel quite a bit for the speaking work. Like a schoolteacher, I don’t have to work during the school holidays, and I usually spend the time building things or knocking-around with the family. I feel connected to work but more than just the ghostly, moneymaking member of the family. My wife retired from paid work last year and came home to look after her mum, who suffers from dementia.
And my dad? He works a contract job now that sees him on the computer at the paper mill, three days a week. He fills the rest of his time - between luxurious, semi-retired holidays - with line dancing, kayaking and handyman work - for mum, and for other people. We’re agreed that it pays to work hard, but not at the expense of a “life”.