Ever since the first of our four children was old enough to know the difference, I’ve made it my business to be home by 4:30 or 5 p.m. every weekday.
I run my own business, so that helps. My company ghostwrites family memoirs and business books. Like most business owners, I can set my own hours as long as I get my work done. Most days, I schedule my last call or meeting to end by 4 p.m., giving me 30 minutes to get home via Boston’s vaunted trolley system.
The key is to leave the office without dawdling, because you can always find something else to do.
Nothing is as important as getting home to the family.
Once I get home, I sit there, Buddha-like, available for whatever is needed. I believe that sometimes the most valuable thing a father can do is nothing at all.
I have a 14-year-old daughter, 12-year-old twin sons and a 7-year-old daughter. Most days not long after they get home from school, they know I’ll be sitting at the dining room table, not doing anything in particular.
Chances are at least one kid has a problem to discuss, has somewhere to go, or just needs some one-on-one time with dad.
This past week, my 7-year-old needed to talk through a conflict with a girl in her first-grade class. One of my 12-year-old boys needed to switch homerooms. And my oldest daughter needed a ride to the grocery store.
Sometimes I jokingly compare fatherhood to being a flight attendant — I’m primarily here for my kids’ safety and security. Every so often I toss them a snack.
It’s more than that, of course. My wife is grateful that while she’s cooking dinner after a long day, there’s someone else present to help the kids with the slings and arrows of life.
The most important moments of showing up as a father aren’t just the Little League games, dance recitals, school plays or other special events.
The real value for my kids is my availability to them, at home, away from the crowds, and my sincere interest in listening closely to whatever they want to talk about.
After all, I’m just sitting there. Reading a book, by the way, not using a device.
Sometimes they need me for something. Sometimes they don’t. But I’m convinced they derive comfort from knowing that if they do need me, they don’t have to try to find me by text, phone or email.
I cannot take credit for this idea, by the way. I got it years ago from reading the memoirs of Arthur Marx, a son of Groucho Marx. Arthur wrote that when he came home from school, his father would be sitting there playing the guitar. He would be hanging around until it was time for him to go to Manhattan and perform in a Broadway show.
Many memoirs of successful men often include this line: “My greatest regret is that I didn’t get to see my kids grow up.” That’s not a price I’m willing to pay.
I recommend to other dads out there if they can do it: Find a way to be home in that pre-dinner hour. You don’t have to do anything. You just need to be there. For your peace of mind. For you.
Mostly for your kids.