Doing Only What I Love

On September 20th, 2013, I wrote:

I learned that now that my wife and I are back at work, that I’ve begun to say what is essentially a long series of goodbyes to my daughter, and that before each one I won’t want to say it, and after each one I will regret it. And that in that moment, I will regret bringing a child into specifically this world, only to thrust her into the hands of others, and through my leaving her day after day, force her to begin to understand the basic, shitty truths about our world, our lives, our existence.

The goodbye that prompted that passage came the morning that I left Luna for her first day of daycare.

A lot has changed since then.

Luna is crawling now, scooting around proficiently, and can easily pull herself up to a standing position with the help of the ottoman or the lip of the couch. (When I initially wrote the first draft of this essay, the previous clause was “and is just about proficient at pulling herself up”; and “scooting around proficiently” was modified by ‘pretty.’ That’s how fast they grow.) Sometimes she falls and I am weirdly proud of the fact that she hardly ever seems to cry when it happens.

She’s sentient too—aware of what it means when she’s in her room and from the kitchen we say, “We’re in here now, come here!” She even manages to look embarrassed—a turned-away head tucked into her mother’s shoulder—by how excited she gets when I come home from work.

Also in the last three and a half months, my debut novel was released. I did a couple of public events, traveled to Minnesota for a launch and a reading, and had a family-and-friends book party in the Bronx. The fanfare has been more muted than I’d always imagined it would be, but it’s an on-going process that I’m proud of.

I’ve also finished what has undoubtedly been the busiest six months of my working life—I taught three classes, worked the 9-5 job that I’ve been working for the last six and a half years, continued my commute of 80 miles/90-120 minutes each day, and tried to continue writing, which mostly took the form of non-fiction stuff that I wrote for this site. Mashed into all of that was the caring for and picking up from daycare of a precocious 8 month-old who still isn’t regularly sleeping through the night.

I’ve worked in a college for the past six and a half years. For the first five, I was an Administrative Assistant and for the past three semesters, I was as adjunct instructor as well. It’s been interesting to see a generation of students enter college with Find A Job high on their personal to do lists. I don’t remember it being that way for me when I entered college in 2002. For as long as I can remember, my employment prospects were either the task-driven jobs I took to make money (McDonald’s, Barnes & Noble, UPS); or delusions of artistic grandeur—rock star, hip hop star, political raconteur, poet, writer, director, and finally, novelist, the role I’ve actually been able to get some traction in, albeit in the loosest sense of the word. I was born in ’84—not quite an X’er, not quite a Millennial, stuck somewhere in between. As a hedge against my fantasies of artistic world domination, I did all of the things you’re supposed to do These Days—the resume writing and the internships and the degrees and the bills for those degrees. I’m even slowly beginning to do the work of marketing myself—even if it means talking to people.

Soon, I’ll be starting a new job. It’s a job that I never envisioned for myself, a job that I will presumably have for the foreseeable future.

For a while now, when people ask me what I do for a living, after telling them that I’m a writer, I’ve always jokingly added, “But my wife has a real job.” And it’s true. As a couple, we live comfortably (although closer to paycheck-to-paycheck than most would probably assume). But as individuals? I wouldn’t be able to survive without her. Setting aside the idea of Emotional Survival for a moment, to do what I do now, with the bills I pay every month, I’d either have to live with several roommates, or with my mother. But I don’t like that many people and I doubt she would have me.

But that isn’t the point. I am grateful for my wife for so many reasons. I’m lucky. And I’m proud. She does the thing that she truly loves to do and she gets paid decently to do it. I have no shame in my reliance on her.

Which begs the question—how did she get into this position?

In the United States, gone are the days when you started working for a company out of high school and with grit and determination and loyalty, you worked your way up the company ladder to the top and left with stock options and a gold watch, to the applause of your admiring coworkers and apple-cheeked grandchildren, when you retired. Job promotions are few and far between now—too many college degrees and not enough jobs that capital-N-need them. The Company Ladder is now in sections and to work your way up, you have to make lateral jumps, like navigating a traffic-y highway, or like Donkey Kong, sometimes taking the same position in a different location simply because of better future prospects, better location, etc.

For the past six years, Danielle has been making those jumps, trying to find the best fit. She has worked in bad neighborhoods, for shitty doctors, even worse neighborhoods, in shady clinics, and for well-below-the-average pay. But her persistence paid off. She finally leveled up.

Which brings me to my new job.

Starting today, I will no longer work my 9-5 Administrative Assistant job. I’m going to be a Stay At Home Dad. My new job will be to raise a daughter while devoting more time to my writing career. For the time being, I’ll still be teaching a couple of classes as well.

I’ve had some kind of daily employment almost straight through for the past sixteen years, starting when I refereed roller hockey games on freezing Saturday and Sunday mornings when I was thirteen. This is going to be a first for me. I’ll be spending the majority of my day doing only what I love—raising my daughter and writing.

Leading up to today, there have been several mornings when I woke up and remembered and I was shocked by what had happened and what was coming. But in some way, I think I knew that it was always going to end like this. There was no way, preaching what my wife and I preach, and at times walking the walk to back it up, that it wouldn’t turn out this way. She does our deals at the car dealership. She orders food over the phone. She needs to be held back during arguments with strangers. For her to finally ascend to this new level of matriarchy is well-earned and, dare I say, beautiful.

I had a lot of trouble writing this essay. I didn’t have an angle. There was no big reveal at the end, no larger lesson learned. The basic thesis could have been presented in about fifteen words. But I felt compelled to write it, if only to make myself believe it all. I find myself, once again, speed-walking into the unknown, forced to fake it, having to make it all up as I go.

But something’s different this time. There’s a calm that usually doesn’t pair with the nausea that comes when change is on my horizon.

I wish I could go back to that moment three and a half months ago: I learned that now that my wife and I are back at work, that I’ve begun to say what is essentially a long series of goodbyes to my daughter.

I wish I could go back and comfort myself and my wife the night before Luna’s first day at daycare: tearful at the thought of what we were doing; unsure, in the darkness of our bedroom, if it was the right thing to do. None of what is now in front of us was in the works yet, wasn’t even a consideration. As quick as everything comes together, it takes even less time for it all to splinter apart and reform into something completely different. Sometimes, it’s for the better. But not always. And regardless, just when you’ve gotten used to this new amalgamation of life and love and necessity, it happens again.

Luna will be back in the hands of others soon enough. But for now, it will be wonderful to not have to say goodbye; unless, of course, it is to bid farewell to our matriarch before she leaves for work.

It will be wonderful to not have to regret.

It will be wonderful to stand beside my daughter each morning and teach her how to rise and shine and prepare to grab the day by the horns.

And then I will teach her one of the few things I’ve learned in life so far: how to, once you’ve got a grip on those horns, pretend like you’re being dragged in precisely the direction you wanted to go. To the place you always thought you’d wind up, even before you knew.