There’s a host of ways that I go about building this relationship. I will be especially witty: “So, you’re five years old. How long have you been married?” I will play endless games of Uno and Jenga and Othello (which is my personal favorite, and not just because most of these kids are not savvy enough to prevent me from scoring those all-important corners.) Sometimes, I will engage them in discussions about their favorite sports despite the fact that I know nothing about the sport itself; these are usually obscure and little-heard of sports such as baseball and football. And at other times, I will have kids play for me the latest song they downloaded to their iPOD, which is inevitably six versions newer than mine. (When I show them my iPOD in a self-deprecating gesture, they react as though I am whipping out my yellow Sony Sports Cassette Walkman that I got as a birthday present in the eleventh grade.)
Now, for someone who is filled with as much insecurity and self-doubt as I am, it is rather peculiar that I am able to make the following statement so confidently: I am awesome at my job. Awesome. I take my responsibility very seriously, and am constantly “on” when I am in session. This is never more true than when I am working with kids. I am strategically fun and engaging and dynamic. I like to think that the parents are extremely appreciative and grateful of my efforts. And every now and then, I get what is quite possibly the best compliment I could ever expect to get from a defiant teenager: “Coming here didn’t completely suck.”
So, this is my job. I do it, I do it well, and then I go home. And every day I hope that who I am at work will carry over to who I am at home. But that doesn’t happen. Ever.
Because when I walk in my front door, I can’t just focus on one thing or one person at a time any more. I have four kids, eight pets, one wife, countless home projects that need to be tended to, and no money to do them with. As a result, I am not able to “just be” at home. Instead, I am constantly in triage-mode: “Yes, I would love to help you make a fort with all of the couch cushions, but I need to remove the tick that is taking a ride on the dog’s back.” “Yes, I would love to watch you re-enact what feels like the entire ninety-minute plot of “High School Musical 3”, but I should probably try to stop my oldest child from bleeding.” And these are just the requests made of me by my wife. You can only imagine what happens once the kids realize that I am home.
It bothers me tremendously that my work-self does not show up at home. It would be nice to be viewed as fun and engaging and dynamic by my own kids. However, it’s hard to be seen this way when I am explaining to them that they have to do their homework and eat their vegetables and not play violent video games. So, this version of me that they see every day is who they know me to be. I’m Dad. And they have no reason to believe that I would ever be any different than this. They don’t know that between home and I work I transform so dramatically that it rivals that of Kevin Spacey’s character in “The Usual Suspects” when the audience finally realizes that he is actually Keyser Soze. (Don’t even think about complaining to me about spoiling the ending of a fifteen-year old movie! If you haven’t seen it by now, you’re never going to get around to watching it.)
But I can only keep the truth about my “double life” from my kids for so long. Not that I would tell them; I’m no dummy. Rather, it will most likely have something to do with the fact that I work exactly 5.96 miles away from my home. (Thank you, MapQuest!) As a result of this close proximity, a surprisingly large number of my clients not only live in my town but are also on the same sports teams and in the same classrooms as my own beloved children. I have not yet gotten wind of a kid outing themselves as one of my clients to one of my offspring. But that time will come. And when it does, I imagine that conversation will go something like this:
Client: “Hey, I work with your Dad. He’s really pretty cool.”
My flesh and blood: “I’m sorry. You must be mistaken. My Dad’s a tool.”
Client: “No, I’m sure of it. He told me how he loves that part in “The Dark Knight” where the Joker slams the bad guy’s head onto the sharpened pencil.”
My flesh and blood: “Yeah, I don’t know what you’re talking about because that is one of the fourteen hundred movies that my Dad won’t let me watch it because he thinks it is too scary for me. Tool.”
Client: “And your Dad and I were joking the other day about how much we both love Code Red Mountain Dew!”
My flesh and blood: “Do you want to know what my Dad packed me as a snack in my lunch today? Carrot sticks that he personally cut up this morning and light ranch dressing to dip them in. Yeah, isn’t he the greatest?”
Before a conversation such as this happens, I would like to think that I could change. I would love to have my work persona match up more closely with my home persona. But who am I kidding? If that hasn’t occurred yet, it probably isn’t going to happen any time soon. And that leaves me with only one option of how to remedy this situation: my kids should start to see me for weekly appointments at work. Granted, it would be a massive violation of my professional code of ethics. But the kids would finally have the chance to see just how awesome I can be. And it will provide me with the opportunity to ask of them the classic therapy question: “Tell me about your mother.”