I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my career, but I was actually at a crossroads. My journey to that point had been linear: college, marriage, job, and up the career ladder at a research and development laboratory. I was the youngest lab director in the history of the company and the challenges of managing a complex organization of over 100 people, most of whom had PhDs, were both intense and rewarding.
My wife was on a similar path. Shortly after we were married, she began her career as a successful television writer and, as I became a lab director, she was a producer on the sitcom Murphy Brown. Then, after many years of trying to have children, my son was born, and things got very interesting.
To be the kind of parents we were seeking to become, we both chose to reduce our work schedules to three days per week, arranged in a manner that allowed us to share the raising of our son without childcare. My employer, which was dominated by males who had a “traditional” view of parenting, did not know what to make of my decision. I thought things were as interesting as they could get. Then two years later, my daughter was born.
At that point, my wife had the opportunity to be an executive producer on Murphy Brown, a job that required attention 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We knew going into this that she would only take on this level of responsibility for the sixth season of the show. I was ready to take the plunge to full-time fatherhood, even though that meant changing my own career path. I took a leave of absence from my job and was a full-time Dr. Mom for the year (still without childcare help). This was one of the most challenging –and most rewarding – years of my life. I not only bonded with my children in a fundamental way, I met many fabulous mothers who had chosen the same path, and we are still close friends.
My employer, however, did little to support my decision, except to question my sanity. (A male colleague actually asked me if my nipples hurt after breastfeeding!).
After my intense year of full-time parenting we stuck with our plan. My wife set her career aside, and we became parenting partners. We slowly gravitated back to our respective jobs, but always on a part-time basis and with schedules that allowed us to continue to make parenting a priority. The children are now both in college and flourishing, and my wife and I have a bond with them and with each other that is difficult to describe; I think I will just call it “family,” and leave it at that.
In doing these things, I grew into the multi-dimensional person I had always been seeking to become, but did not have the chance to realize before becoming a husband and parent.