We all need to earn a living, but working dads can experience the same sort of absence guilt as career mums, says Giles
Rummaging in the soft toy box at Toronto Airport Duty Free and furiously shouting at the sales assistant, ‘Is a moose in a Mountie outfit really the best you can do? What am I supposed to get my other child? This novelty leaf-shaped maple syrup bottle?’ I realised I have become the sort of dad I hoped I would never be: a Business Dad.
I’ve been working in Canada for the last three weeks and am now heading down to the United States for three more. There is a week’s break in the middle to come home and give my kids a quick cuddle (which was a condition of my taking the work), but that doesn’t amount to much serious modern fathering over a seven-week period.
I think I hate most of all how normal this is for everyone except us
For my wife Esther, who is used to having me there most of the time to pick up, say, a quarter of the childcare, it’s a bit of a shock. And I feel terrible about it, although she makes no fuss. Even that last sentence makes me sound like some sort of moustachioed Edwardian git or the dad in Mary Poppins, for forcing her into the old-fashioned position of stoical lone child-raiser and homemaker. I think I hate most of all how normal this is for everyone except us.
Most fathers don’t really see their kids. Most work all the time, travel for business and come back with some crappy toy, a load of apologies and tales of how much they missed everybody. And I never wanted that to be me. But it is, suddenly. It really is.
I’m earning good money doing this, of course, and telling myself the kids have to be fed, clothed and educated – just like every other dad. I take pictures of the children in my suitcase and stick them on the hotel bathroom mirror – just like every other dad.
I sleep long in the morning, and lie about it to my wife – just like every other dad
Then I go out and enjoy my work, the company and the new places, get drunk at night and sleep long in the morning, and lie about it to my wife so that she doesn’t think I have come out here for a party – just like every other dad. And I hate myself for it – just like every other dad.
And the odd thing is, if this work goes well, which I’m supposed to hope it will, then I will have to do it again in a couple of months, for longer. And possibly for ever, two weeks a month until I die, full of regret for wasted time, leaving a son and daughter who hardly knew me. But at least they pay me well. That’s the main thing. The money. Money is great. It means I can pay for that crappy moose and the bottle of syrup in cash, and not even wait for change.