Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vacation Reruns, Part 4

My husband chose this post to run while I'm on vacation, probably because it ends with an endorsement of him. He says:  

Let me tell you about my first wife.... No she was something completely different. Now I have to get back to studying international war crimes tribunals.

FRIDAY, APRIL 30, 2010

Married to a Workaholic (Again!)

If I am becoming my mother, as so many of us fear, it may have something to do with the fact that I keep marrying my father.  

The workaholics in my life, past and present, are, or were, good men.  They are, or have been, absorbed in activity that I recognize as meaningful, and morally valuable.  

My father was a doctor, the kind who made house calls and got paid in rabbits and farm produce as well as in cash.  When he kept patients waiting, it was because he took the needed time to listen to each of them, and to relate to their lives and their true illnesses.  I was used to his absences from family outings and occasions, the skid marks he left arriving late for dinner and leaving afterwards for the hospital, the interrupting phone calls and even police dispatched to our home if our one family phone was tied up too long and an emergency call couldn't get through.  His work was important, and it came first.  And last.  

My first husband was, and is, a clinical psychologist.  Like my mother before me, I spent long evenings alone with our child, since he worked late, past her bedtime, several days a week.  Unlike my father, he didn't break for dinner.  We took two cars to parties when he was on call, which was almost always since he usually practiced solo.  My sleep was broken by patients' calls to discuss their insomnia, as well as more urgent problems.  His patients were important, and their needs came first.  And last.

My second husband is a university professor and committed change agent, who commutes to work in another city, in another state.  His students and the disenfranchised community groups he works with command his energy and attention, in between writing, preparing for classes and presentations, traveling internationally for meetings and research, and fulfilling other professional obligations.  In the last few years, he has begun to provide expertise, always for the defendant, in death penalty cases.  His iPhone accompanies us everywhere, even to bed and the dog park, and can be relied upon for late-breaking bulletins and late-night and weekend calls from graduate students and project participants.  These people are important.  I should have listened when he told me that, in his first marriage, work came first.  And last.  I thought we would be different.

But why am I writing this sad saga in my blog about procrastination?  Because, for whatever reason, this pattern in my relationships with men is part of how I got where I am today.  And part of how I didn't get where I thought I wanted to be.  My husbands would tell you that my choice to devote much of my time and energy to child-rearing necessitated their focus on work, and on providing.  In both marriages, I experienced it differently.  It seemed that their fevered work paces were unalterable, and after initial skirmishes, I gave up and worked (or didn't work) around them.  Having grown up with one mostly absent parent, I felt that my children needed to be someone's first priority while they were young.  And it was clear that person was going to have to be me.  Whatever other work I took on, for pay and as a volunteer, had to occupy the space that was left.

But in truth, I can admit now that there was an element of martyrdom in my compromising. And that motherhood, for all its challenges and importance, functioned partly to get me off the hook of dealing with fears of failure and even stronger fears of success.  An even more uncomfortable confession is the naming of my own inner workaholic.  Had I known how to manage the perfectionist mother and the unfocused but nevertheless perfectionist scholar/writer in me, I might have been able to give attention to more of the work I longed to do.  

I still live with a workaholic, and our routines at this point assign much of the family and household work to me.  But I aspire, as does my spouse, to effect some small but important changes in how we share time and responsibility and freedom for our own pursuits.  My blog writing has been partly fueled by his willingness to assume the dish-washing chores--mostly--for the last few months.  After years of wrangling about this domestic task, years which saw me trying to restyle dish-washing as a meditative practice, and trying to hold my male children accountable for a job their male parent escaped as much as possible, he somehow heard me, finally.  He says it was when I pointed out that washing the dishes took at least an hour an a half of my time each day.  He thought I could do something more important with that time.  And he was right.

So I defend to the death these days his right to do this work without criticism.  When my children complain about improperly stored items or food residue baked onto plates, spoons and bowls by the dishwasher, I invite them to do better.  

I have accepted that my partner's approach to work is a product of his own demons, and not a realm for my reform efforts.  But I am no longer going to use it as an excuse to give up on myself and the use of my talents.  If nothing else, his example is a cautionary tale in my face that can motivate my own more human-friendly work balance.  And who knows?  Maybe if I stop fighting it, he may eventually come less to defend it.  As I said before, he is a good man.

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