This was a bad idea. My oldest son is 4, so it's a little early to tell how much fatherhood has changed me, but I have noticed two things. I stopped moping. (There's not enough time.) And I really, really love the office.
Before kids, the office life had its ups and downs. I once sat next to a colleague who constantly sniffled, for example. Then there are the wasted afternoons when no work gets done, and a soul-searing tedium sets in. But now, when the kids wake us up at dawn and demand a new episode of Max & Ruby, I know it's only a few short hours before I can slip away to the climate-controlled comfort of the Slateoffice, which comes complete with a snack machine and blazing Ethernet.
I also used to worry a lot about my particular job. What kind of writer should I be? Why did my last piece only get 10,000 hits? Wasn't my real plan to finish a novel at some point? Is it too late to go to law school? I still worry, but kids have changed this, too. Now the job thing has simplified: gotta feed the family. Work provides health care, a steady paycheck, and the opportunity to stroll out for an afternoon coffee—and the kids have infused it all with a sense of purpose that it didn't have before. Being the provider is actually kind of soothing.
There are certainly nights when I wake up with dread and wonder how to pay for everything. The two boys are still fairly small now. They don't take up much room in the apartment, college is far away, and they don't ask for iPods or heli-ski vacations. They still get really excited when I hand them a big piece of cardboard. But that won't last for long.
And then there's the matter of ambition. Staying at home as a man feels weird that way. Shouldn't you be out moving forward in the world and in your profession? With kids, I'm constantly recalibrating my idea of "success." My job doesn't pay as well as those of my doctor, lawyer, or banking friends. At 36, I've seen my income rise slowly like an overloaded C-2 cargo plane while their salaries take these nice, logarithmic leaps. But what I do have is plenty of freedom, and I've spent a lot of time with my two sons in their young lives. I sometimes wonder whether I'm a bit too much into my kids. Being with them in the mornings and evenings provides a kind of simple, direct joy that's not found in my work day.
So this switch won't be about the clueless dad getting buried underneath an avalanche of dirty diapers. But it will be about a dad who doesn't get to go to his little clubhouse in lower Manhattan every day, who gives up the psychic comfort of his career and its daily responsibilities and lives the free-floating day of the stay-at-home-Mom-who-also-tries-to-write-stuff. I'm kind of nervous and grumpy about the whole thing. I'll admit it right at the start: Susan has the harder job.