“Up in the Air” My Journey in Becoming a Professional (Father)
I used to revel in jet-setting, it was something that was the proverbial carrot at the end of some roles that I struggled through. I always found my time spent ‘on the road’ whether it was with clients or peers, was my speed as I was able to interact with new people and places. I was a Delta Platinum member, National Car Rental Premium Executive, Hilton Honors member and one of those assholes that breezed by you with my headphones on in any line during your travel experience. I was many times, more comfortable en-transit than I was in my own home; If someone needed to fly out to meet with a client, everyone knew I would go on virtually no notice, and Kate was doing much of the same as well, so when we were able to find 4-5 days in the same state, we had a blast.
Enter, our pregnancy. I slowly but surely built up the courage to begin a dialogue with colleagues and even my boss about my intent to back off from being on the road as frequently, and (gasp) even beginning to develop some ‘normal office hours’ where I would (gasp) put my phone in a drawer, and spend uninterrupted time with my wife, and talk to our future baby even though he was still in the womb. My co-workers smirked and one said, “Sure dude, you go ahead and see if that works for you.” And my anxiety set in. I knew that the team I work with and the brand that I market would be more than accommodating in my transition into fatherhood and my hope to NOT be the guy that has a kid that points to the sky at an airplane and mutters, “Daddy.”
My boss, the father of three boys of his own was (believe it or not) the FIRST to know that Kate and I were pregnant. I stepped out for a call one night and paced around in the cold Minnesota night, excusing myself for a call that lasted nearly 45 minutes; when I sat back down missing the meal he smiled and me and said, “Need to rush home first thing tomorrow, eh?” I looked at him in disbelief and said, “How did you know?” and he said, “You’ve never stepped away to talk to Kate for more than 90 seconds at a dinner, and a tip: Stop by and get some flowers.” This same guy, my boss, was the one person that gave me the monumental advice shortly after we had August that carried me through the past nine months:
“Do what you feel is right. You’re a great asset to the team, and sometimes, you’ll be needed away from the family, but you’ll always return home to them.” He said.
We had August on July 16th, 2016, and I hadn’t traveled away from Kate in three months in fear that she may go into early labor and I’d be on remote photo shoot somewhere without mobile coverage > 4 hours away from the nearest airport that would connect me to another, that would get me home to take him home from the hospital. Kate and I had discussed an annual business commitment that we both knew I needed to attend, a mere three weeks after August was born, so I went to the airport while my mother-in-law, mother, sisters, and the neighbors stayed to help my super-hero wife, who P.S., couldn’t climb a set of stairs to care for our three week old boy. I’ll never forget my Uber rolling up to our home at 5:15am (as I have a knack for booking the earliest flights possible), as I closed our front door behind me, and looked down at my suitcase, for the first time in my entire life, I hesitated. I was quite literally, in fight or flight anxiety ridden panic.
“Am I being irresponsible?”
“Am I a bad husband?”
“Am I a bad dad?”
“Does the brand REALLY need me more than my wife and child?”
“Am I even in the right job?”
“Should I just put in my two-weeks and try consulting from Minneapolis so I can be with Kate and August and not miss a thing?”
“I shouldn’t go.”
“I REALLY shouldn’t go…”
I looked up, saw the Uber again, grabbed my bag, and ran to the car without a glance back to the house as I knew that in the off-chance I may see Kate or August waving from the window, then I’d be back in that door calling my boss to inform him that I’d elected to stay home and that we’d need to have a bigger conversation regarding my role on the team.
But instead, I got in the car, put my headphones in, and sobbed like a three-week-old boy, lamenting over the fact that my very own three-week-old boy wasn’t aware, but dad had just chosen work.
I kept my commitment to my professional career that day, and I still find myself on airplanes (I’m currently writing this on one), but I do know one thing.
That I am my best self when I’m challenged with my job because I love my job, and loving my job doesn’t make me love my son, my wife, or my family any less.
Since August’s birth, I have lost my executive level statuses with airplanes, hotels, and rental cars, and now wait in line with everyone else, and ironically, those lines that infuriate people to no end, give me an odd satisfaction. I’ve had two weeks in Asia, multiple trips to NY, SF, LA, Seattle, photo shoots in Colorado, and Utah, but I now fly in as close to my commitments as possible and I’m a frequent red-eye guy as being home for when our little guy wakes up in the morning makes me feel as if I was with him in his dreams flying high above getting back to him and my wife.
August has been and will be raised by my wife and I, but as both Kate and I have quickly come to terms with our passion for our careers, he’s also raised by a community of incredibly supportive people that we’re lucky enough to have within our lives. He’ll grow up knowing that sometimes mom and dad need to be away, but he’ll grow to learn that the times that we are away, make him a better human, as it makes us better humans.
Grounding myself in mapping out my commitments within my life didn’t mean I had to change my priorities, my family has always been and always will be far and away my #1, but literally grounding myself from continuing my professional career would have made me a ghost of the guy that Kate fell in love with, and who August needs as a dad. Grounding yourself in parenthood doesn’t mean grounding yourself from your livelihood, you can still go up in the air from time to time, just hurry back for breakfast.
Joe Peters lives in Saint Paul, MN with his wife Kate, son August, and trusted Labrador, Winnie. In his spare time, he’s the head of marketing for Vasque Footwear.