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From fast track to daddy track: Why I'm focusing on kids, not career

They'll only be young once, so this dad has made it a point to soak it all in.
/ Source: TODAY

There’s a standard conversation I have with people these days.

“How’s work going?” someone will ask me.

“Great, I’m off at 3 o'clock, so I get to go home and be with the kids,” I inevitably reply.

It doesn’t sound like much, but my decision to bypass discussing my job and instead focus on the key lifestyle benefit it offers speaks volumes.

The fast track has given way to the daddy track. Yes, I unapologetically admit that I have put my two kids, boys ages 8 and 6, ahead of my career, prompting a question that has flummoxed parents and non-parents alike for years: Do I work to live or live to work?

There is no right answer, of course, but I can unequivocally say being in a position that lets me be a present father is far and away the best part of my job because, well, there is no substitute for being present. Yes, having a job, providing for my family and enjoying a fulfilling career are vital. That's not to be dismissed, but the concept of climbing the corporate ladder? I prefer a corporate stepstool.

That’s not to say the daddy track is free from consequences. My last job, which I held for more than six years, provided me the chance to work from home, and I’m aware that being on the clock while in my sweats added a few wrinkles that most likely changed the trajectory of my career. My official title was digital content manager for a media company, overseeing and writing material posted onto local radio station websites all around the country. I wasn’t in the office, so there was no face time with important people, which meant I was not necessarily top of mind. A rising star I was not.

I ended up getting laid off, a setback that I attribute in large part to — irony alert — not being present. Do I have regrets? No, because while I may have missed out on a lot, I experienced a lot more.

From the simple ritual of taking my kids to and from school to not stressing about making it home in time for dinner, being a dad was more rewarding than anything I did for that job. I was able to help my boys with their homework. We ate dinner as a family. Functionally, it became easier to keep our house in order. The prospect of becoming a bigwig couldn’t hold a candle to domestic bliss, even as I watched others advance in their careers.

I now hold a different job in media and gone is the comfort of working from home, replaced with my current employer honoring my request to work an early shift so I can get home to be with my children. Will I get promoted? Will I become a "senior" anything in title? Will my boss be annoyed if I ask to go home early to take my kids trick-or-treating or go to a reading event at their school? I don’t know and, more importantly, I don’t think about it. I go to work, do my best, and then return home to become Dad.

Once I get home, I help my kids with their homework, play with them, get them ready for the legion of sports they play, give them baths and tuck them in bed. The list of everything that goes on is extensive, but there’s a certain beauty in being with my boys that no bigger paycheck or impressive-sounding job title can top.

It’s a second job requiring infinite overtime, without the overtime pay. It’s exhausting, yet there’s a compulsion to be there for all of it. Is it because I know one day, which will no doubt arrive quicker than I can imagine, my kids will no longer need me? Is it because we’re creating memories? Is it because I appreciate things more than I did when I was younger, a hint of wisdom creeping into my graying hair?

I think maybe it’s a little of all that and more.

Two decades into my career, I have found a certain bliss. I've had conversations with so many other mothers and fathers, most of whom would love to leave work at 3 o'clock, but don't have that luxury. To be able to land somewhere at this stage of my life is a gift.

I coach both of my sons’ baseball teams and it’s not an uncommon sight for other dads to hustle to the field midway through a weekday practice, tie askew and sweat stains peeking out from the armpits as they rush home from work to catch a few moments of their sons playing. It’s a side effect of the rat race I don’t want to run.

“How’s work going?” people ask.

“I’m off at 3 o'clock, so I get to go home and be with the kids,” I say.

“You’re so lucky,” they respond.

They’re right.