The Push And Pull of Parenthood and Work, Specifically, Entrepreneurship

Vulnerability and the Obscure Quest For Validation

“What do I need to do to be a staple on your menu?” I ask

“Call me at 8am tomorrow morning and we’ll” talk about it.”

I think to myself how hard this person is to get on the phone, how long I’ve been trying to get in touch with him, how, when given a sliver of a window, to jump on it. But 8am is a terrible time for a phone call for me. It’s crunch time of getting the kids ready for the day and, because I’m not a “you take care of the kids and I’ll go to work” kind of father/husband to my wife, it makes little difference at that moment that I need to balance fatherhood and running a business, two seemingly more than full time jobs. I also WANT to be there for my kids in the morning and, the fact that my business affords me some flexibility in my day, offers me, at least the possibility of a window to do that. That possibility often extends into the day though, and I find myself working less and less, and, because I don’t HAVE to be anywhere, I get sucked into the various domestic duties, and find myself battling against a mounting mound of tension in my chest, that I hope doesn’t end in my blowing up. Ten years ago, when I started my business, the business was my life. As a single guy living with roommates, I had very few responsibilities, and could go as hard as I wanted to in the business. Now, my life is my family, and I happen to be the sole bread winner. Thus, I work way less, and yet the stakes are so much higher.

Growing up, my Father left the house at 8, or earlier, and came back at 7, or later. That was just the way it was, and there seemed nothing wrong with it. There was a clear boundary between what I did during the day, and what he did. Whether or not I realize it, that is essentially the schedule I have assumed I would fall into, and when I don’t, the tension seems to mount. For what reason, I have not quite figured out yet. Not in my case though.

So all these thoughts racing through my mind, I scramble, in a matter of fractions of a second, to figure out how to find an alternative to this proposed 8am chat. “Totally,” I respond. “I can totally call you. Any chance I can call at 9,” my head spinning a little, trying to find the closest possible window, knowing that I’ll have just dropped my older kid at school, but that the baby will be in the back, hopefully sleeping, but with a 50% chance that the commotion of drop off will have woken him up. This is a chef I have a lot of respect for, an account that I’ve worked hard to get, yet one that I feel slipping away on account of logistics, knowing, realistically, how low I am on his priority list and, thus, how narrow the window of opportunity is.

“Just call me whenever,” this epic chef replies, which I know really means “8am was your only chance and you can call me later, but I probably won’t answer, and your chances at working with me will be in limbo at best, and reduced to slim in all likelihood.” More head racing ensues, and I process this reality, feeling utterly ill equipped to confidently go forth with any decision here, knowing that, realistically, I will keep the dropoff schedule, and resign myself to the reality that I may have to let this one go- just like I’ve let so many go since “growing up,” getting married, and becoming a parent.

How do all these people do it? Successful, accomplished people with kids, who always seem to be breakfasting, dinnering, travelling, with young kids wading in the background? No one wins an Oscar for being a good parent, or is getting asked for an interview, or had a documentary made about them, or just lauded in general, for being a present parent. Not that any of these things are motivations to do anything. They’re not and rightfully so, although they are markers of success in a celebrity/wealth obsessed society. The point is that people get celebrated for being great artists, building great businesses, etc. etc. Not for being there at dropoff and pickup, and making dinner, and being part of a consistent bedtime routine. The value equation in our society seems upside down.

So it begs the questions- Why am I even wondering about this? Why does the type validation one gets when one is accomplished in their work compete so hard with the validation one is capable of giving oneself, and comes from the blissful smiles of a person’s children, when one is a present, highly involved parent? Being present as a parent is far more important than any work related opportunity. This I know. But for whatever reason, the hunger for work related success, the kind that gets you lauded by people you don’t know, or aren’t that close to, or gets you paid, or gets you remembered, or even just noticed, is aggressive. How much of is about pursuing work that is in your heart, and how much about work that you think will get a reaction and the validation of others? And how much of it is purely about making money, of which the ability to do so brings its own complicated validation? Just writing about this feels ferociously vulnerable, as it acknowledges a selfish need to compensate for deeply rooted insecurity, that I don’t fully understand, but am reminded of constantly. How, then, to break the cycle and be satiated with authentically important work?

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