The Story Behind This Photograph

PHOTO CREDIT: AHLAM SAID
PHOTO CREDIT: AHLAM SAID

There is more to this photo than its hundreds of “likes” and comments on Facebook. While beautiful and adorable, it encapsulates the life, ultimately unsustainable, of parents living and working under capitalism. It is unfortunate that millions must choose between paying rent and paying attention to their children.

Two hours before this photo was taken, I arrived home harried, just off a stressful suit and tie meeting. My wife was away for her job so it was my duty to relieve our nanny. I found her exasperated and exhausted. Bless her heart – even if we could afford to have her for more hours and more days each week, I doubt she would come.

I thanked her profusely, changed out of my suit and tie, and spent about 30 minutes playing, wrestling, and giving my sons my undivided attention.

Then came crunch time. I had an article to write, dozens of emails to respond to, and another suit and tie meeting to prepare for.

β€œDada needs to work for the next 30 minutes,” I bent down and explained to my boys.

β€œYou can run, scream, read, sleep, make a mess, do whatever you want. I love you but I need to focus now and will not be giving you attention.”

β€œOk, Dada,” they said.

The little one took my headphones and began to drip juice all over the floor. The bigger one decided to climb on me. I started writing a piece on March Madness. I called a friend, a former college athlete listened on speaker phone while my son sat on my head. I transcribed notes about the dark side of the NCAA and how the billion dollar March Madness industry often lets its workers – the athletes – go hungry. It was not lost on me that the same system that has me working around the clock to provide for my family has young men and women working without pay.

I quickly finished the piece, sent it to the editor – a day late – and cleaned up the spilled juice in time to greet my dear friend Ahlam who agreed to watch the boys while I went to an evening meeting for work.

I am a working dad and my wife is a working mom. We spend a huge chunk of time figuring out how to build a patchwork quilt of childcare while we work all day, every day, odd hours, often weekends. Working from home is a myth – its impossible to get anything done with kids around, as the picture clearly shows. And we are among the lucky ones – we make enough money to pay the rent (but not enough for full-time childcare) and we have generous family and friends willing to help out.

Our reality makes me wonder about the growing wealth gap. What do the working poor do with their children? Why on earth do rich people hire full-time nannies and send their kids to boarding school when they could spend their time, not working, with their kids? How much longer is the middle class going to be a slave to this disparate system? Are we ever going to have a society that values parenthood and helps parents be with their kids without the threat of homelessness or starvation?

The last thing I want to say about this picture is that I don’t often work from home. My wonderful, genius, multi-tasking wife works from home 2 days a week and some how manages to keep conference calls, write papers, keep the house spotless, make sure the kids are fed and clothed and relatively entertained. I cannot say that she maintains a good mood, but who can blame her. So while this picture has a lot of people elevating me and my role to “superdad,” the truth is, my wife is the real superhero. TC mark

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