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The Tantrum, Part 2: Should DadWagon Get a Job?

February 4th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in The Tantrum  |  5 Comments

Consider this a mini-Tantrum. Usually, all three of the Wagoneers weigh in on a single tantrum topic. Matt already wrote his post about whether or not to get a job (synapsis: he is tempted). But Theodore was exempted from writing, since he actually made his opinion known in the most emphatic way possible: by taking a severance package and leaving Harper’s Magazine this week.

That leaves me alone to say: DadWagon should not get a job. Particularly if it’s a job they really, really like.

I had, perhaps, the jobbiest-job of the bunch, since Time Magazine is, safe to say, a more corporate working environment than Harper’s. It involved me putting on a button-down shirt (and even a tie sometimes, though I did show up at a lunch with Ban Ki Moon and the bosses of Time Inc. once without even wearing a jacket–oops). I took the subway into work during rush hours, with all the other sleepy professionals, and got off at Rockefeller Center, where I would trudge with the same mudflow of officeworkers every day. It was more of a “job” than anyone in my direct family line has held for several generations.

And in my own way, I made as emphatic a statement as I could about that lifestyle–if not about that particular magazine, whom I still write for and whose staff and editors I still admire–when I quit in 2009.

I had worked a lot of jobs going through school and in the years afterwards. I did construction, I taught high schoolers, I washed dishes and shoveled snow. None of them was a good fit for me, a person with little patience and a weak back. I once put on a suit and spent a year selling educational programs to school districts, failing so horribly that I sold somewhere in the vicinity of $3000 of product, not even a tenth of what my base salary was.

But the most dangerous job of all, to me and my family, was the one I loved. It was a tremendous privilege to work at Time Magazine. It’s a heavy brand, and it had the resources to send me around the country and occasionally overseas to write and report stories. I wanted to do well by them. I took on every assignment I was offered, and thereby wound up editing and, to a certain degree, managing people. The office at Rockefeller Center became a warm–if incredibly brightly lit–second home. My enthusiasm for the job conspired, with caffeine and insomnia, to keep me in the office up to 80 hours a week, until 3 or 4 in the morning. And I was often not the only one there that late.

I didn’t have any ephiphanic moments when my first kid was born. It took longer for me, a couple years really, to understand what parenting is about for me. That is, I realized that although many of my colleagues had made peace with working insane hours as their families moved forward, it just wouldn’t work for me. I respect the hell out of them, and the work they do and the choices they make. But I found myself not wanting to be at the office every day all day. I am prone to sentimentality and regret, which means that not only do I not get to see my kids, but I feel like I’m doing them and me some irreplaceable disservice by not being around them. And in a place that makes as many demands–rightfully so–on its editors and writers as Time does, not wanting to be in the office when you have to be there is not good for anybody.

So I left. Besides this blog, I’m more or less doing the same work, but I make a lot less than I used to (thanks for getting my back, wife!). And there are plenty of the garden-variety frustrations that freelancers have: you have to constantly motivate yourself in the face of what feels like the unmovable indifference of the (non-Time) editors of the world.

But the other side of the ledger is strong. My kids have never had to be taken to the doctor or the hospital by a babysitter. I cook for them–not often enough, but more often than I did. Aside from the times when I am traveling, I get to have an actual morning routine with them. I know my son’s favorite games, his favorite color, what new words he’s learned today. I get to see my daughter’s rapid ascent up the evolutionary tree first hand, from the protozoa she was at birth to a five-year-old who can act a lot like a homo sapiens teenager. I don’t pretend that I am spending this time or doing these things for their sake–lord knows they are free to resent my presence later on in life. I do it for myself, in part as a way of minimizing my own potential future regrets.

I did, thanks to my continued amity with Time, have a chance to reprise the office life for almost all of last week. It was almost exactly as I had left it: great to see everyone, great to be in meetings where decisions are being made, and a poor fit for me overall. From Tuesday morning to Thursday evening, I didn’t see my kids. That’s partly because it takes me so long to finish my work, partly because there’s so much else to do–meetings, mini-conferences, quick huddles in an office.

I was there. It was good. But it’s better to be home.


  1. SCOTTSTEV says:

    February 4th, 2011at 4:14 pm(#)

    I think you bring up something important. Many people who spend too much time at their jobs, in fact love their jobs. There’s a simplicity in having to do just one thing, and pride in doing well in a demanding field. Often, the jobs are important to others. Lives may depend on you being good at it (Military, NGO work etc). I can imagine that the cost-of-living in NYC can sometimes tempt couples to work too hard. It’s hard to pull back especially when you love the work, but life is all about the tradeoffs. Kudos on your wise choice.

  2. Nathan says:

    February 4th, 2011at 4:31 pm(#)

    True enough, @scottstev: I can imagine the pull would be even stronger if lives actually depended on what I do. I’m spending a lot of time with military these days for a story I’m writing, and I do get the sense that those who leave combat and retire have to actively choose the lives of their families over the lives of their men, and that’s not an easy thing to do…

  3. timecolleague says:

    February 4th, 2011at 5:01 pm(#)

    Of course, there are those of us who choose/have to work, maybe at Time, because we figure we’re better at THAT than parenting. The nanny is actually better at taking the kids to dentist. And cooking. And whatever. But you pretty much lay out THE big issue for working mothers —and now fathers—for many years.

  4. john cave osborne says:

    February 4th, 2011at 8:39 pm(#)

    i tell you what, man… this one hit me right between my eyes. if only you lived down the block… i’d be over there before you could say BOO to run this one back with you.

    nothing i have to say is fit for a comment b/c it’s so alarmingly self consumed and neurotic, but suffice it to say this: i’m 100% certain you would find my career path / career angst / career choices (read bailouts) of interest.

    just like i found this post.

    well done, my friend.

  5. Rita Healy says:

    February 6th, 2011at 5:46 pm(#)

    For everything there is a season. Journalistic opportunities come and go, but this is the only opportunity you’ll ever have to spend time with your children at this age.

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