When I was born, the protocol for men kept fathers out of the delivery room. My own dad was out of town on work when I arrived, and I grew up trying to match his professional dedication. Like many men of his day, his identity and passion were wrapped up in his career. When he passed, I scattered his ashes near the big Chicago buildings that still stood thanks to his calculations. His accomplishments became his monuments, and if that isn’t the masculine ideal, I don’t know what is.
I powered through school and my software career out of a sense of duty, not passion. My heart was in writing stories and reading philosophy, or in terms of Indian immigrant parents, “hobbies.” I envied my dad his clarity of purpose, and the mark left by his work on skylines across the country. More than once I saw the software I built scrapped and replaced as needs and technology changed. As a manager, I saw the teams I had built dispersed to different cities, replaced with outsourcing, or acquired and reorganized. I worked in volatile bits on virtual machines, not concrete and steel.
But my generation of sons grew up with Harry Chapin’s cautionary song “The Cat’s In the Cradle” in our ears. While the women we knew earned advanced degrees and cut uphill paths into the professional world, we learned to cook and clean, and resolved to be an equitable presence in our children’s lives. I wanted to be a dad. I saw honor in it. After two vaporous decades in software, I was ready to commit to something wholly, without having to keep one eye on the “next thing.” With my daughter, never had my questions of “purpose” felt so self-evident.
From the day she was born, I became less professionally ambitious, and accordingly, my career’s trajectory declined. But that made room for my wife’s professional ambitions. Now she’s the one who flies around the country on business. She’s powerful, accomplished, and her profession is as much a part of her identity as my dad’s was to his. But it isn’t a complete role reversal. We are both active and involved in raising our daughter. As much as I’d like the idea of being a stay-at-home parent who writes, the economics don’t tally, and my ingrained ideas of masculinity pressure me to be of better use to capitalism. But I have no late nights at the office anymore, and “meets expectations” is an acceptable performance review. Because I get to come home at reasonable and regular hours, help my daughter with her homework, read with her, or just play. And never once do I question if it’s the right use of my time.
Rajiv Mote is a dad, writer, and software professional living in Chicago.