Allow us to introduce Mrunal, who is taking a year off a high flying job to spend time with his two year old disabled son Arun.
One of the best decisions I have ever made was to take a year off work. I am now 4 months into my sabbatical and I am loving (almost) every minute of it. I’m proud to say I have actually done what many men say they will do. Namely, I have put my family first.
However, whilst this has been one of the best decisions of my life, it was also one of the most difficult. Why was “doing the right thing” and putting family before career so hard and why do so many men never get around to doing it? I can’t speak for others but I think my story has a very familiar ring to it.
Logically, it was a no-brainer. Arun, my delightful two year old, who happens to have cerebral palsy, was about to enter a critical period of his life. Everything we have read and understood about his disabilities told us that the time up until turning five is the most important for children like Arun. He is learning and growing at a phenomenal rate and has a greater capacity to develop now than he will ever have again. If we were ever going to hothouse him, now was the time to do it. So, my wife and I sat down and did the sums. From an educational, physical, financial and moral standpoint I should give up work and make sure that Arun got as much input as possible over the next year. This would be a better investment of my time than staying on at work. It was the single thing I could do that would most benefit the standard and quality of life for my family in the future. Sure, we would miss out financially now but if we could get Arun walking, talking and feeding himself then the difference to him and us would be tremendous – as well as saving money in the future (do you know how much a specialist wheelchair costs?).
However, it wasn’t that easy. There were dark voices in my head that made me doubt the irrefutable logic of leaving work, albeit temporarily, to be a full time Dad.
Like most men I define far too much of myself by what I do. When we meet someone at a party what is the first thing we ask them? “So, what do you do?” I liked the fact that I had a successful career. I wasn’t sure how I would feel answering, “I’m a full time Dad”. I was proud that I was good at my job and that I provided financial security for my family. Giving that up, even in these modern, enlightened times was a wrench. I would be pulling the ‘chute and stepping into the unknown – that is always a difficult thing to do. Moreover, there was a small part of me that was worried about what people would think. Was I giving up some of my masculinity to help with what has traditionally been a women’s role? Would I still be able to joke with my mates in the pub and talk to men I have just met without feeling awkward and somehow inadequate or inferior?
When people heard what I was doing their reactions were telling. Close friends were right behind me. Acquaintances and work colleagues were split: The women were fulsome in their praise using words like “fantastic” and “jealous”. The men, however, were more guarded. They used words like “courageous” and “brave”. We all know what that means…
Three months in and my decision has been vindicated. Since I have been off Arun has learnt to crawl, is scrambling up stairs, walking with a toddler trolley and using more words than ever before. Putting family first is paying off. Life at home is not easy, I am working as hard as I ever did in the office and at eight o’clock every night I collapse into my chair with a beer knowing that I have earned it.
And, you know what? All of my mates still have a beer with me and I can still talk football as well as I ever could.
So, if you ever say you wish you could spend more time with your family, think about what is holding you back. If you don’t you might miss out on making one of the best decisions of your life.