For Dads Who Travel:
How To Be There When You Can't Be There
By Kevin Nelson
Ask any parent who travels on the job and he or she will tell you the same thing: It's tough on family life. It's tough to miss soccer games and birthdays and bedtime stories because you've got to make a meeting in Buffalo or a conference in Dubuque or your plane is delayed for hours in San Francisco. But what can you do? Travel is a must in many jobs. It's a way to get ahead, build careers. It keeps bread on the table, gets orthodontist and the college tuition paid, sends Junior to science camp and Missy on her class field trip to Washington D.C. At some companies if you're not willing to travel, it's sayonara, baby. So you do it. But you suffer and so does your family.
whether you travel frequently or only occasionally, there are
some steps you can take to minimize the impact travel can have
on your family life and to keep yourself and your family connected
emotionally even when you can't be there physically. Frequent
communication is key. Call home every night if you can and use
your cell phone to stay in touch during those long drives, while
you're waiting at the airport, or even in the shuttle. If you're
on the move a lot it may be hard for anyone to call you back,
so ask your wife and kids to leave you messages and promise to
get back to them as soon as you can.
When you call home be sure to talk to everybody, even the littlest
ones who can understand far more than they can speak. Do plenty
of listening, but also tell them about your day, what you had
for dinner, the weather, that lovely view of the parking lot you
have from your Holiday Inn window. Children worry about you just
as you worry about them. Hearing your voice-even if it's discussion
nothing but the most mundane details of your day-reassures them
that you're okay and that their world is still intact. With older
children e-mail is terrific, especially if you're traveling overseas
where time differences, foreign languages, and international phone
systems can be daunting. If there's a fax machine at home, ask
your kids to fax you their journal entry for the day or a drawing
they did at preschool. You can fax them back a drawing of your
own or even the menu from a restaurant you took a client to. Send
postcards, too. Every kid likes getting mail.
- As much
as possible, let your family know your exact itinerary: what your
travel plans are, what city you're going to next, the hotel where
you'll be staying, your estimated check-in time, and so on. Your
work may send you through several cities and burghs over the course
of a day. Your kids may want to follow your pilgrimage with a
map at home.
Talk to your children about the benefits of all the travel you're
doing-how you're piling up frequent flyer points and rewards that
you'll be able to use on the next family vacation. You might also
want to consider bringing your family along on some trips. Fly
in on Thursday, take care of business Friday, and spend the weekend
with them sight-seeing.
As a general rule, short business trips are better than long.
Your family needs you to be home as much as you can, and long
absences are confusing and unsettling, especially for young children.
Talk it over with your boss. Old Ironsides may have a heretofore
unsuspected soft spot in his heart (what heart?) and could be
willing to grant some flexibility. Definitely cut back on your
travel if you have a newborn in the house. If that's not possible,
make sure your wife or partner has plenty of back-up for those
times when you're away.
back a stuffed animal or T-shirt from the area where you've been
is an easy way to let your kids know you've been thinking of them
while you've been gone. Some younger kids get a kick out of those
pint-sized sample shampoos and lotions found in hotel rooms across
the land. Be wary of playing Santa Claus all the time, though.
Your kids may grow more eager to see the loot you've brought them
- When you
get back home, depending on how long you've been gone, expect
a readjustment period-for you, for everybody. Spend some time
with your kids. Get down on the floor and play dolls or cars or
whatever they're into. Hang out a little. Check in with Mom to
see if there's anything you need to know. Some circuit-riding
fathers blow in, point out all the things that are wrong and need
to be corrected in the house, and then ride out of town again.
Who needs that? Ease yourself into your family's schedule and
routine, rather than asking everyone to adjust to you. Dad travels.
He goes away, he always comes back home. You don't want it to
be a disruptive or unique thing, just an ordinary fact of family
Nelson is the author of The Daddy Guide, a guide for new and expectant
fathers (NTC-Contemporary). He is also writing Playground Pop, the
serial novel that appears on this site.
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