Times Have Changed

I wonder if there is anyone out there. If anyone has the time to read this. After many months spent doing other things, I finally wanted to start blogging again. I’m sorry I had to go dark on my website. It’s because I went dark on the inside. For the first time since my divorce, my kids left town, and I didn’t get to wrap my arms around them for 13 whole weeks. If you aren’t divorced with kids, then you wouldn’t understand what I’m talking about. It’s traumatic. Or at least it was to me. I had begun my journey as a dad thinking that I would be raising my kids with a forever wife. A stable partner whom I could carve out a sustainable niche in this horrid jungle of a world where no one is guaranteed survival. Sorry buddy. Kiss that story goodbye.

It’s hard to describe the gambit of feelings that you experience when you lose regular physical contact with your kids. This last summer wasn’t exactly a vacation from my kids that people say I should have had. Let’s see. Depression? Yep. Guilt? Absolutely. Anger? Pain? Why not? Just went completely down the rabbit hole. Kids weren’t around. So really. Why not? This is what I paid my lawyer for. Right? I should just enjoy my purchase. This is just what happens when dreams fall apart and, oh yeah, there’s a couple of kids still in the mix. Isn’t divorce great?!

For most divorced parents who go dark like me, the day you come out on the other side is that day the plane touches down and your kids walk out of the airport. Things go back to normal, and the darkness is just a shadow of days best forgotten. Fuck last summer. Time with my boys is finite for sure, but I’ve just lost a huge chunk of what I had expected to spend with them, so I’ll just stay positive while I can and enjoy the time we do have together. 

It sucks that Christmas and Spring Break are no longer holidays that I’ll be thinking fondly of from now on. Per the parenting plan I have with my ex, those vacations will be the delight of my baby mama. Not me. Every summer moving forward will be a cruel summer. No fishing trips or water balloon fights in the backyard. It’s homework and Halloween for me from now on. I’ll take it though. I won the fight in court. Didn’t I? This is the best it’s going to get from here on.

If you don’t know my pandemic story, earlier this year I had a job working on the phones for Grizzly Industrial. While a lot of people were quarantined in their homes, I got to enjoy the first phase of the pandemic working as usual. Because Grizzly sold table saws and other things the construction trades used for their businesses, we were immune from the shutdowns that closed other companies in town. I live in Springfield Missouri, so the only things that are popular around here are Trump and Josh Hawley. Not masks or social distancing. I didn’t fit in the company culture, and I made the mistake of having just a tad too much dignity by pointing out that Grizzly was illegally rounding employee time cards. I eventually lost my job in the beginning of February of 2021, and I ended up using my savings from stimulus checks to be a stay-at-home dad until the end of June.

Over the summer, I got to experience what it was like to have options for the first time in my life when it came to employment. Not a lot more. But a little. The current labor shortage that our economy is experiencing allowed me to find a job that would be suitable to my situation as a single parent in fairly short time. The job isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough. Even though I’m college educated and loaded with skills, I usually tend to only land entry level jobs. Not sure why that is. I just always fall through the cracks, I guess. Pointing out my employer’s crimes probably has nothing to do with it. The fact that I never get promoted and eventually go somewhere else is most likely my fault. I know. However, this summer, I had hoped things would be different. Maybe I would have some leverage and finally get something decent that could support a single parent household. Maybe I would finally find a job I liked. 

What I actually experienced proved to me that employers need to become more flexible with employees who have young kids. I keep reading in news articles about how “No one wants to work” with our current labor shortage. What’s really going on is employers don’t want to provide a livable job. Now when I say livable, I’m not talking about a livable wage. I ended up having 6 jobs this summer, and when I finally whittled it down to the job that I felt would best suit me as a single dad, I had chosen the job with the lowest wage. It’s minimum wage in fact. Thank you very much. Food stamps please.

Through budgeting and the fact that I’m a fucking hustler, I’m able to get by financially. What sold me on the job I have now was the fact that I could work from home, the programs that my employer has me run on my computer aren’t too invasive, and I can spend the most time possible with my kids. The other two reasons are nice, but it’s really the time with my kids that I’m starving for. Now that summers have taken a huge kick in the nuts, I’m kind of loath to lose any more time with my boys. Especially in exchange for shitty pay and no other tangible reward.

Even though it’s 2021, I’m finding out what many single parents, especially single moms, have known for decades: and that is it’s hard to find a job which allows you to make decent money while giving you the ability to be there for your kids at the same time. Most jobs that I looked at last summer wanted me to either work some hours in the evenings or at least one day on the weekends. At this point in the pandemic, child care is more expensive than the wage I would make not taking care of my boys myself. There really isn’t any way you can make me think that it’s a good idea to spend less time with my kids anymore. However, employers are tone deaf on this issue. They’ve always been so.

Back in the Golden Age of America that birthed the Baby Boomer generation, most families were headed by a working father and a stay at home mom. Gender roles were defined. Mom was supposed to give her life to the family and, in complementary fashion, Dad was supposed to give his life to the company. This is how the dynamics of the household became cemented in our collective psyches. Moms were powerfully present connections in most children’s lives, while dads were wholly absent from most kids’ upbringings. You’d be lucky if dad could coach your baseball team or take you to a game on the weekends.

I think we all know what happened to our Golden Age. Right? Can any family make it on one paycheck these days? As a single dad, minimum wage doesn’t really cut it. Even double what I make now really wouldn’t buy much of a life. No. These days, mom has to leave the home and join dad at the company. Living has gotten more expensive while wages have stayed the same, but complete devotion to the company is still expected. Choosing to call out from work to take care of your kid is still frowned upon. I mean. Get real. We all know it’s fucked up. But the promise of a career is the idea that we’re expected to buy into. If I missed my kid’s basketball game because I had to work, I’ll still be able to pay for his college and have a nice retirement for me someday. Okay. If you believe that our economy really works that way, then you’re probably just trying to avoid spending time with your kids. 

Even if our work schedules align fairly well with our kid’s school schedule, a normal school day is roughly 7 hours and on a normal 40 hour/week schedule of a banker’s hours model, you’d be lucky to have 3-4 hours a day with your kid. The rest of your 24 hours that day would be spent working, sleeping, or whatever else you do in between. Maybe I’m crazy, and other parents don’t feel this way, but I want more than 3-4 hours a day and a 2 day weekend. 

I keep thinking of that song with the cat in the cradle with the silver spoon. How, in the song, the father never spent enough time with his son because he was too busy. Sadly, when he finally had time to spend with his boy in his old age, it was too late for his son to care about a dad he barely knew. Why do we work so hard and for so many hours when we have kids? These are the important years, when making memories would really mean something. And yet we let employers or society in general rob us of this precious time. We have to pay. That’s what it boils down to. Do the crime, and you gotta do the time. People basically believe, it was fucking that got you in this mess in the first place. You had kids, so you are on your own when raising them. There won’t be any handouts for you. Parents shouldn’t dare to expect special privileges.

The nice thing about our recent pandemic is that it shined a bright light on the United States’ difficulties with child care and family leave. Working class parents have had to face many challenges while trying to raise our families over the years, but now that our commitments to our children are affecting the economy, with many analysts citing child care as a major reason a hefty percentage of non-disabled Americans are staying out of the workforce right now, we’re finally having discussions about real issues that parents face, especially when it comes to discrimination in the workplace and our society at large. Parents are an under-utilized resource in our labor market and no one is talking about the real reasons why. There are just too many obstacles that make it too hard to work and raise kids at the same time.

As a divorced dad, raising my two boys by myself during this worrying school year, I’m finding that our modern society is completely primitive when it comes to understanding the economical needs of diverse families and the importance of family having time to spend with each other. However, the recent passing of the monthly Child Tax Credit has got me thinking that the United States might just be starting to treat parents better finally. I’m hoping further reform can be achieved because of this pandemic and the unique opportunities it provides us to change our society into something better.

There are plenty of studies that show positive results when parents spend more time with their children. I’m not going to go through the numbers and references because anyone who’s reading this is smart enough to know that it’s true. Anyone who doesn’t agree is just trying to find justifications to avoid their children, and they know who they are (side note: not everyone who has children enjoys them). All I know is that the landscape of parenting has certainly changed since I was a kid. Without a doubt, raising kids has become more time consuming than it was just a few decades ago. Especially so, since coronavirus became part of the equation. But, you know what? Work has become more time consuming as well. Making a living has become more difficult and less rewarding. 

Employers expect you to choose company goals over your family obligations. If you’re committed to raising your child to the best of your ability, it would follow that you are spending a lot of time with them. You are actively bettering their lives or just, you know, hanging out with them. If you see your child for a few minutes in the morning and interact with them less than an hour or two in the evenings, do you really feel like you’re involved? Do you keep telling yourself that the money is more important than the time you spend with them? While the pandemic has been absolutely awful, it has caused many people to reexamine what’s important to us. We also have had to think about how our world operates and ways to make it better.

Up until now we were all operating under the belief that specialization is the way to run our economy. Jim is good at making pizzas, so he’ll just make pizzas from now on. Susan is good at making shoes, so that’s all she’ll do. Since they both do their professions so well, they make their products faster and better than anyone else. When we all barter and exchange our products, then we should all win, and society as a whole operates better. Right? But say Jim and Susan both have kids, and Rhonda is willing to watch them while they work crazy hours. But what if Rhonda isn’t better at raising Jim and Susan’s kids? The answer is that she never was better. This system of specialization has left everyone overworked. Everyone’s now wearing crappy shoes that are too expensive, eating pizza that makes them unhealthy, and dealing with childcare deficits that are tearing apart the fabric of our society.

Right now, I make less than most child care providers, so it doesn’t even make sense for me to trade work for child care. It’s a loss. But say I made at least 1.5 times what my babysitter made? Even if I was making 3 or 4 times as much as my child care provider, it’s still not worth it. While my babysitter is playing with my kids, or just sitting there making sure they’re okay, she’s not doing anything else to benefit my household. Shit. While I’m watching my kids, I’m running both the washer and the dryer. I’m cooking food for later or cleaning up toys off the floor. I’m hunting down stray gummy bears and dirty underwear. I’m also doling out unfiltered wisdom when my kids ask me a question. There are no cutsie answers a babysitter (too scared of what I might think) would supply. “Dad, my friend Sam says that nothing we learn is school will help us later in life.” Will a standard bullshit answer really do my son much good later in his own life? “Yeah, well, Sam has a point son.”

When it comes to my household and raising my kids, I’m the best at it. So why isn’t it the only thing I do? Why do I have to choose between money and spending time with my kids. Why am I not making money at this? There are just so many constraints that a parent has to work with when it comes to taking care of children. Allowing my kids to walk home from school was a major decision for me and probably not something a parent would have thought twice about 30 years ago. Once again, it’s all about time.

Whether you hover constantly at your kid’s side, or else are finding ways to get someone else to raise your kids (like a significant other or family member) time is very important to you. People who don’t have kids, or else have their kids grown, don’t count minutes and hours the same way ‘we who parent the young’ do. As a forty something dad who’s figuring out how to work full time, raise two young boys, and still find the time to lead a healthy life, I’ve started counting the seconds I have left before I die, and I’m wondering if there’s enough to go around. I’m not quite sure there is.

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