Fringe benefits: A home-based dad celebrates closeness with daughter
"Mom? - I mean, Dad?"
My daughter, Lillie, just spoke to me and, once again in a moment of confusion, mistook me for my wife, Amy. She giggles and is slightly embarrassed, yet she has paid me her highest compliment. To her way of thinking, I am her mother's equal.
Moments like this are but one example of how Lillie and I have become closer as a result of my working from home.
As a Phoenix-based staff correspondent for a Washington news organization, I telecommute daily between my principal areas of coverage - Arizona and New Mexico - and the nation's capital. My wife co-owns a gardening-store business. I became a first-time dad when I turned 40. Perhaps I felt a "biological clock" of my own ticking down, thinking that my days with my daughter might be shorter than had I begun a family earlier in life. From the beginning, I felt a need to spend as much time with her as possible.
Working from home, as I have done for the past 2-1/2 years, has placed me in tune with the cultural icons of an eight-year-old - musical groups like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears - as well as with the rhythms of her everyday life. I have become involved in her after-school activities - Brownies, gymnastics, piano lessons.
It has enabled us to share more time together, from solving mundane matters such as arithmetic problems or - as was the case recently - addressing bigger concerns like what it means to die.
It has also allowed me to get to know friends who come play at our house. Working at home has meant adjustments to my life and - ironically - a greater commitment to my work than before. For example, I begin work earlier in the day - about 6:30 or 7 a.m. - than when I worked in a downtown high-rise. But the satisfaction of being at home when she finishes the school day outweighs the daily 5:45 a.m. wake-up.
Being home-based, though, isn't always idyllic. At times, the pressure of deadlines, noisy TVs, and four phone lines ringing can be too much. I am grateful to have a wife with a flexible schedule and neighbors whom I can call upon at a moment's notice to take Lillie on days when I need to leave home to cover a story.
My home office is located next to my daughter's room on the second floor of our house. She comes and goes freely and sees me at work up close. In the mornings she awakens to find me watching C-Span or scanning Web sites in search of story ideas.
Often, after school, she sits quietly on the couch in my office, reading a book or doing homework while I complete the day's work.
How different our relationship is from the one I enjoyed with my father while growing up in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1950s and '60s.
He was a manufacturing-company executive and - as was the custom of the era - his workplace was mysterious, separated from home and off-limits to children. I can recall visiting his office only a few times.
Times have changed, however, and a supportive company and communications technology have played an important role in that change.
Perhaps Lillie is learning that "working" can take a different form than just going to an office. Perhaps the experience will give her the ability to define her own concept of work in the Information Age.
To some, this new era raises apprehension and causes people to wonder where it will all lead. To me, however, the answer is clear: It leads me straight to my daughter's heart. The ability to work from home liberates me to spend more time with her.
Last year, for example, she took gymnastics lessons one day a week. While she was on the bars, hoping someday to become the next Kerri Strug, I watched proudly - and kept tabs on the state legislature via cellular phone and laptop computer. That freedom is one that my father and his generation did not enjoy.
Lillie returns gratitude for our times together. When I travel out of town on business and arrive at my hotel room at the end of a busy day, she greets me with an e-mail message telling me how her day went. It provides a sweet ending.
There also are the notes that she leaves scribbled on my reporter's notebook while I have left the room to fetch something or answer the front door. My favorite is, "Oh, Dad, you're the best dad I have ever had!"
What father could ask for more?
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