September 2021 . . . .

“Winding Down My Stay-At-Home-Dad Gig”

My eldest and I have found a time of day that works particularly well for us to converse. She likes to call me at night, just before she goes to bed. 11:45 is a very good part of the evening. Not quite tired, no more snacks, the last ballgame scores coming in, I’ve sent my video-game troops out to collect tomorrow’s resources (see my notes on playing a MMP online game in the April 2021 issue) and then the phone rings and it is she.

We talk about, well . . . whatever she wants to talk about. Sometimes she’s exhausted with school and her internship work and navigating the not-quite-post-anything world. It is just as likely that she asks me how my writing went on this day or the weather or some tidbit she picked up in class and wants to know if I ever heard this before. We talk about relationships, how to keep them, how to fix them, what makes them thrive. We discuss the climate (of everything — social, political, and of course the planet’s.). And then she might just as likely ask me about word-choices in marketing and how much it is like writing poetry, or she’ll let me read to her a raw and manic paragraph or two of my day’s work. It is here, in the dim, beige light of a single overhead lamp in my office, that I recognize that this is my audience. Not just any young-twenties person, but my person. When I get up in the morning and sit down at my keyboard, it is she I am trying to make laugh. The perceived she — sitting across from me and drinking a cup of yesterday’s coffee, creamed and sugared and reheated in the microwave, her feet up and eyes closed, just listening. And the real her, miles away, leaning on her old desk, staring at me with a crooked smile as I read. So, here comes a funny part, or a passage I intended to be funny. We’ll see. I am hopeful, don’t telegraph the moment, keep reading, my voice even. But she snorts and is laughing and waves her hands and tells me to go back and pick it up again. Say the funny part again, Dad. And that’s why I write, and why I go on. I’ve been paid by laughter from my audience. My person. It’s a heck of a thing.

She signs off to go to sleep, and I pad upstairs and check on my younger daughter, who is soon to be off into her second year of college, and first on campus. Her light is on. Her laptop glows in her face. Don’t stay up too late, I tell her, and she promises, which is both polite and a bit silly, in that although we’ve tried to stay out of her business because she has spent the school year at home, doing it all remotely and well, yet we still get in her business. She is patient with me. Tells me how she thinks she’s done on a test. My god, she’s taking Organic Chemistry, about which I know nothing. Sometimes, when we are simultaneously puttering around in the kitchen, I occasionally ask if she needs help opening something, a child-proof package or ornery jar. No, Dad, I’ve got it, is her response. I know what she means — the throwaway shorthand that implies “thanks for offering, but whatever I’m doing that seems like I’m not doing it will be done in just a moment, so, no.” I also know what she doesn’t mean: I’ve outgrown you, Dad. Nevertheless, I have told her that soon she will need to remember to call me from school, because I will miss having her around and sitting on the porch and drinking tea and opening her mayonnaise and watching Japanese anime with subtitles and she has carefully explained to me that we can do this sharing thing on our computers so it’ll be like we’re both still watching together and whoever invented that technology thank you very much.

So, anyway, this is how a career ends. A job that isn’t really necessary anymore. Stay-at-home Dad. Once again, many years after being considered a viable candidate, a top prospect, I’m being downsized. Not outsourced, so there’s that, but still it’s kind of a bummer. Oh, I’ll still get to answer some questions from time to time, and have my credibility questioned regarding financials and recipes, weather forecasts and baseball teams. Or, as I’ve told many an employee, is this a kick in the pants? Get out there and do something new. Find a fresh niche and mine it for nuggets of gold.