Career Casualties: The Cost of Traveling Parents

The call came in the summer of 2004. My husband, Jake, and I were enjoying a well deserved vacation. Sitting seaside, I peacefully gazed at our four month old son, Ben, cozily nestled in my arms.

He was the baby I had yearned for my entire life. After two miscarriages and a stressful pregnancy, here he was. For the first time, I felt pure joy.

Jake’s ringing cell phone momentarily drowned out the sound of waves crashing on the beach. Mesmerized by the crisp salty air, I faintly heard Jake agitatedly utter, “What?” I glanced up as he stepped inside.

I was fixated on the ocean mist when Jake reappeared. He stood behind me declaring, “The company folded.” Instantly, those three words changed the course of our marriage.

Suddenly our income was annihilated. We were already down one salary due to my extended maternity leave. Now we would be losing our primary source of revenue. Serenity was quickly replaced with uncertainty and panic.

Five years earlier, a friend introduced me to Jake while he was upstate recovering from an accident. At the time, his career was centered in New York City, overseeing ornamental ironwork projects on the City’s largest bridges.

Luckily, Jake’s affection for me soon outweighed his love for bridges. He abandoned New York and found a management position locally. We married, bought our first home, and hoped for a family.

When we returned from vacation, Jake immediately began pursuing professional opportunities, exhausting all territorial leads without success. Regional jobs were scarce in the steel industry.

My heart filled with dread as the statement spilled from Jake’s lips, “I think we should consider jobs in the City.” Jake was highly respected, with a stellar reputation. Logistically, securing employment in NYC wouldn’t be difficult. Navigating the emotional turmoil an offer would generate was more problematic.

Concerned about our dwindling savings, I agreed to the possibility. Jake quickly received a proposal. We debated arguments for and against, reflected on the expected challenges, and cried envisioning the impact of long distance parenting on Ben.

With my approval, Jake accepted the offer. Our agreement was that he would continue to look for employment locally. The promise was that Jake would be home permanently by the time Ben began kindergarten.

Eleven years have elapsed. We have been blessed with two more sons. Jake’s affinity for the bright lights of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges has returned. This affection, coupled with his ingrained ideology that man is provider, impedes our intentions of 2004. Sometimes agreements aren’t fulfilled and promises are broken.

As adults, Jake and I have adapted to the weekly commute and irregular lifestyle. Our children have acclimated, weathering the disappointment of missed concerts, plays, and sporting competitions with grace.

But each struggle uniquely and individually. Ben and Jake share the same juvenile sense of humor. Ben’s loss can be felt in the evenings, when his favorite comedies are on. He glances at Jake’s empty chair absentmindedly, perhaps hopefully, prepared to share a laugh with his dad. Ben misses Jake’s daily physical presence, their wrestling matches and quiet cuddles before bed.

Peter is introspective, practical, and sensitive. His deprivation is felt during homework, class projects, and school events. Of our three boys, Peter is the most conscious of his peers. He watches friends interacting with their fathers with envy, mourning the paternal friendship he feels entitled to. He yearns for a deeper relationship with Jake, for his dad to have a deeper understanding of his dreams and ambitions.

Jake’s absence has had the most visible impact on our youngest son. Josh is emotional, creative, and nurturing. He loves acting, drawing, and painting. Josh’s concern for other children, belies his age. In kindergarten, he received three commendations for demonstrating compassion, after instinctively befriending and assisting his differently-abled classmates.

Sensitivity and creativity don’t come naturally to Jake. His boisterous approach with the older boys hasn’t been successful with Josh. Their differing interests have shaped a divide between them.

The distance has promoted awkwardness and hampers their relationship. Neither can see the ramifications of their mutual indifference. Josh because he’s 7. Jake because he takes Josh’s attitude personally.

Josh feels deprived of the fatherhood he should have. He lashes out physically during the recreational time he shares with Jake. He aches for acceptance, but doesn’t know how to articulate it.

Jake expresses anger and impatience at Josh’s belligerence, failing to recognize the origin of either of their feelings. To do so would mean facing the casualties of Jake’s career, addressing the realities of what our family has forfeited.

There are glimmers of hope. I have seen moments of spontaneous and unadulterated affection between Jake and Josh. It is clear that they love one another. But, attempting to strengthen their bond, while quelling Josh’s aggression is laborious.

As a mother, I am charged with teaching and nurturing my children. I embrace these responsibilities unconditionally. Feeling obligated to parent a spouse feels awkward and unnatural. How can I bridge this gap without showing favoritism to my son or demeaning my husband?

I’m navigating this terrain gently. My focus as a parent is to reign in Josh’s behavior. As a wife, I have encouraged Jake to find a common interest with Josh. My hope is that meaningful interactions between father and son will turn the tide of their relationship.

The influence of a father in a son’s life is indisputable. I want Jake to have a positive relationship with all of our sons. He does too. However, staying connected while commuting has been challenging.

Sometimes in the serenity of the night I hear Jake’s words again, “I think we should consider jobs in the City.” As I peacefully gaze upon my precious boys as they slumber, I envision how different our lives would be if I hadn’t consented.

Childhood is fleeting. My hope is that one day when Ben, Peter, and Josh reflect on theirs it’s happily, remembering the quality of the time spent with their father and not the quantity.


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