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Leaving Public Service to Be a Dad

A father needs to be with his family, especially when the youngest of his three children is one year old and his eldest is not even 8. So after almost 18 years in public service, I'm leaving the profession.

I leave knowing that I've served my greater family - the American nation - with every ounce of commitment I could muster. And I leave knowing that I'm more than ready to focus now on my wife and three children.

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In raising my own family, I often think of my father. I certainly thought about him when I made my decision to leave my current post as secretary of Energy in the Clinton administration. I remember how my father would take the time from his heavy work schedule to be with us. The best testament to my father's commitment to our family is the fact that all six of his children were in college at one time.

You can only imagine the day-to-day dedication he devoted to our family in the years before my father sent us to college. He was there for our school activities when his job didn't take him away from home. He was there for our baseball practice. He was there to support us.

My father was a cotton broker in south Texas, and needed to travel - not unlike me, now, 40 years later. He traveled to Japan, Latin America, and Europe, connecting buyer to seller. Whenever he returned, he'd have a gift from some faraway land. Those gifts helped teach me about other cultures and countries. And I've carried on the gift tradition with my own family. Whenever I travel, I come back bearing gifts for my children because I remember - oh, how I remember - what those gifts meant in addition to having him back home.

And so, a couple of months ago, the time finally came when my wife, Ellen, and I decided that it was time for us to raise a family in a more normal way.

Being a member of the president's Cabinet requires an enormous commitment of time. Only three weeks after I became secretary of Transportation in the first term, Cabinet members fanned out across the country to discuss the president's State of the Union remarks with the American public. I left a one-year-old daughter in the hospital. I felt terrible leaving my wife alone in a town we'd just moved to and where she knew almost no one she could count on for help. But I had to go, and I still feel terrible about it. That set the tone for the past 5-1/2 years.

While serving in two Cabinet posts was exhilarating, it was also mentally and physically demanding for me and my wife. Because of my long work hours, my family developed a schedule that was separate from mine. They had to eat at a certain time, go to sleep at a certain time, play at a certain time. After a while, I began to interrupt their schedule. I was out of step with their rhythm.

I've decided that I now want a career that will blend better with the rhythm of my family. I'll still have a career, and I'll always work, and work hard, just like my father who, at 81, still does.

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But as the former secretary of Transportation, who promoted bicycle safety programs throughout the country, I now want to be able to teach all of my kids to ride their bicycles.

As the soon-to-be former secretary of Energy who established a science education computer program to help schools access science tutorials through our department's home page, I now want my children to depend on me to learn how to use their computers.

I'm thankful to the president for giving me an opportunity to be part of an administration that has made education a priority, balanced the budget, reduced crime and created millions of jobs for Americans. But the time is right for me and my family to move on. And as Father's Day makes me think of my own remarkable father, I know how important a father can be in a child's life.

* Federico Pena is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives, former Denver mayor, and former US secretary of Transportation. He leaves his post as US secretary of Energy on June 30.

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