Once again, I find myself at 35,000 feet, tear ducts wide open and ready to drain me of any last drops of moisture in my body. Today’s in-flight movie: The Blind Side, in which Oscar™ winner Sandra Bullock adopts a quasi-homeless black friend of her young son. Will I almost-cry today? Probably not—I don’t even have my headphones plugged in, which makes the melodrama easier to ignore.
Or maybe I will. I’m coming back from yet another work trip, and even though it lasted only ten days, this one feels longer than usual. While I was away, Sasha was sick for pretty much the first time in her life, and every night Jean was telling me stories of yellow gunk oozing from my little girl’s nose and eyes, of how she wasn’t eating, of how clingy she’d become. I could tell from Jean’s tone that she was exhausted from the childcare, and exasperated by my absence. Even with help from my mom, it was tough.
And okay, I don’t want to compare their ten days to mine, which I spent eating my way around Rome and the hill towns of Abruzzo, but it was tough for me, too. On previous trips, Sasha was younger, and although I might be gone for a week or two at a time, I was missing an unformed baby. Now Sasha is, if not quite a whole person, certainly a character—a human system of hazily articulated desires and unconsciously charming behaviors. Missing Sasha now is different because I like her: I want to be around her, play games and read with her, wipe the schmutz from her orifices, maybe even take her out to a bar one evening. (Kidding!)
At the same time, it all makes my travel—my work—that much less fun. Ten days of bucatini all’amatriciana and pecora alla callara (on someone else’s dime) may sound exciting, but if I could’ve done it in half the time, I would’ve. That line I wrote about last week—“Io sono casalingo”—was truer than I knew, and as I waddled back to a friend’s apartment or a stone country house from each gut-busting meal, I couldn’t help feeling jealous of these people who were already home with their families. I guess this is what you call homesickness, a feeling I’m not too familiar with.
The even more frustrating thing is that my travel schedule is not slowing down. Two weeks from now, I’ll be back on the road, on another ridiculous adventure, with even more limited Skype and phone access to Sasha and Jean, who themselves won’t have my mother around to help them through the day. After that, who knows? I’ve been asked not to go anywhere for a while, but what can I do? This is my job. Like that of a fisherman or a soldier, work leads me far from home, imposing its responsibilities in place of the ones I’d rather fulfill, and what kind of father would I be if I didn’t work? Despite all the enlightened modern fatherhood we espouse here at DadWagon, I still feel compelled, on a genetic level, to be a provider, even if I’m only a minority earner.
But the truth is, Jean could support us, and I could stay home. I could become that guy I told the Italians I was, un vero uomo casalingo, doing the laundry, cooking dinner, wiping snot from his daughter’s nose and almost-tears from his own sad eyes.