35-hour-a-week dads

By: Soren Johnson

“If my home is a country,” a fellow dad admitted recently, “then I am its ambassador-at-large.” The remark reminded me of Pope Francis’ admonition to bishops to “stay” in their home dioceses and “steer clear of the scandal of being ‘airport bishops.’”

With Father’s Day upon us, we dads of young and teenage children would do well to drop to our knees in gratitude (and perhaps exhaustion) and reflect on the health of our home country.

Advanced apologies to those seeking Hallmark sentiments on fatherhood. And all dads who are fully engaged presidents (or more accurately, VPs) of their home countries are welcome to return to their Father’s Day bacon and eggs.

Ambassadors-at-large and “airport dads,” read on.

First, you are not alone. Recent Pew studies find that the average dad spends 7.3 hours a week with his kids. As staggering as that is, it’s nearly triple the 2.5-hour average of 1965.

Father and ChildrenBut my informal research of inspiring dads I know finds that they share a baseline commitment to be on the scene in the evenings, roughly 15 hours a week. When you add 10 hours per day on the weekends, these dads clock 35 hours a week with their families — 480 percent above the national average.

Welcome to the home country.

The (non-weekend) hours? These are Sunday through Thursday (school nights), 6 to 9 p.m. These dads are present for dinner, homework, family prayer, story-time, baths, kitchen detailing, and laying out tomorrow’s clothes. They don’t skim Ephesians 5:25 —“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her;” they live it. They can take the “honey-do” list in stride.

Dads committing to this 15-hour baseline candidly admit that the 6 to 9 p.m. window can find them grumpy, jerky, exhausted, moody, irritable, or combustible. Up since sunrise, they often out-perform their peers at the office because they are getting the job done by 5, and not stringing it out into what some call the premium hours lifestyle of overtime, returning home at 9 or 10 p.m. Upon arrival at 6 p.m., they face complex emotions and logistics that dwarf anything at the office.

These dads daily and hourly resist two convenient escape routes.

First, media. The average American spends 12 hours a day looking at a screen — more than two hours on the smartphone, more than four of television, and five on the computer. We dads can throw our kids a tablet or game system and check out (and return to work e-mails), anesthetizing the entire family and blunting the “edge” of the 6 to 9 p.m. climb.

Second, the premium hours club offers dads a convenient opportunity to be an ambassador-at-large or “airport dad” in so-called sacrifice for the family. I don’t dispute the real prospect of financial gain. Yet, these monetary or professional advances often come with lasting consequences and a demotion to ambassador-at-large.

Scratch the surface of these two escapes, and we find laziness and a lack of trust in God. Herewith I commence a sermon-to-self, as one who has binged on media and enjoyed the perks of premium hours.

If we dads are showing up, the evening hours will exact a toll. Tedium, grind, and occasional panic will punctuate the joy of meaningful interactions with our families. Engaged dads routinely hit the wall, tearing new muscles over time. The body mightily resists: if we’ve already blazed neuropathways around the deliciously easy and lazy escape of media, we literally crave it.

Further, the premium hours club conveniently affords the ambassador-at-large a widely-accepted “free pass” from marriage and family. This “pass,” however, promotes a fiction: that families depend upon dad’s job, and not, fundamentally, on the Lord.

The best dads I know are largely off the grid of our media-driven and premium hours culture because they have returned to their home countries. They have accepted the repercussions — at times, lower incomes, smaller professional networks, or delayed promotions.

Known for her radiant joy, Blessed Teresa of Kolkata privately wrote of her struggles. “The work holds no joy, no attraction, no zeal,” she once confided to her spiritual director. But in striking faith she wrote that “in spite of all feeling” she had decided to “refuse Him nothing.”

“In spite of all feeling,” we dads have a daily chance with our wives and children to “refuse Him nothing” and live Ephesians 5:25 in the heart of our families. With patience and perseverance, we can discover a joy in our home country that is beyond any price. Lord willing, we will finally hand in our letter of resignation for our ambassadorship-at-large. In return, we will receive a new job offer to report to our true baptismal work at home as priests, prophets, and kings.

That will be a promotion to celebrate.

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde’s special assistant for evangelization and media. He can be reached at s.johnson@arlingtondiocese.org.

This column first appeared in The Arlington Catholic Herald. View it here

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