When Going to the Office Makes You a Better Dad Than Working From Home

I am writing these words at 10:16 pm. My two daughters—four-year-old Sasha and six-month-old Sandy—are asleep (I think), and my wife is just starting to clean up the skirt steak, grilled onions, guacamole, and salsa I made for dinner—made for dinner after getting home at 8:30, after a slightly extra-long day at work, and after a quick drink with a visiting writer I'd like to have working for me. In just over eight hours, I'll be waking up again, to start the whole thing all over.

Not all that long ago, I worked from home. I was a freelancer, and although I had an office two subway stops—or a 15-minute bike ride&mddash;away from our apartment in Brooklyn, I identified as a stay-at-home dad. I could leave late, go shopping during the day, run errands, and pick the older girl up from school. And somehow, in between all of that, I managed to write the articles that to some degree sustained us. I was a SAHD.

Of course, that's total crap. Three years ago, when Sasha was about a year old, I took that office two subway stops away because I realized that, with a kid around, I was never ever going to get any work done. Yes, she took naps. No, she didn't require all that much care. But the simple fact is—she was there. She took up my brain space. I couldn't concentrate. And so I moved out, to an office, a place where all you are supposed to do is work. And that's what I did there, mostly: I wrote my little articles, and I e-mailed with editors, and I finished a whole darn book. Preorder it now!

(Now the baby, Sandy, is crying, in a way that she usually doesn't. But I'll wait and see if she quiets down. Oh, no, my wife is going to deal with her. Okay, back to this article.)

That office was my savior, as is my new office, at an enormous media company in Times Square. That's where things get done, where I have the time and head space to think and act in the ways that allow me to earn the money that goes toward the kids' clothes and diapers and food. And, I should add, that provides me with a sense of fulfillment—a feeling of challenges accepted and overcome.

(Sorry, Sandy's crying again. Let me go stick a pacifier in her mouth.)

Right, so, I like going to the office. I can concentrate. And I like it when the small staff I oversee comes in as well. I can talk to them (even if it's often only over IM), and we can work issues out quickly, and if no one calls me or IMs me from another part of the office, I can give them, and our collective work project, the full attention that they and it all deserve. It doesn't work that way when too many of us are at home.

I mean, I get telecommuting. If the nanny were sick one day, I'd be the one staying home, tending to the children and checking in on the development of this website whenever I could, attempting to be present in both places at once. But as Katie Roiphe, whom I normally can't stand, put it in Slate recently, "In this weirdly emotional debate, we should at least be willing to admit that something is lost and something is gained from working at home. That the comfort and flexibility are counteracted by certain constrictions on the imagination, by a competition of focus, even by the relaxation and familiarity of home."

(Is the baby crying again? I keep waiting for it. It's going to happen, isn't it?)

Look, I don't know what Marisa Mayer is thinking. I've heard her workforce is lazy--telecommuting for no good reason at all. I've heard her called draconian, a traitor to mothers, to parents, to her generation. And I don't really care what she's up to at Yahoo, whose raison d'être has been in doubt for more than half the company's existence. But I do know that I like to work at work—it lets me separate that me from the other me, the dad I am when the sun goes down from the guy who's charged with steering a publication into the future. Neither my family nor my co-workers should have to deal with the other guy. I certainly wouldn't want to.

(Okay, now the kid's silence has me worried. BRB.)


Presented by

Matt Gross, Theodore Ross, & Nathan Thornburgh

Matt Gross, Theodore Ross, and Nathan Thornburgh write for the website DadWagon. Theodore Ross is the author of Am I a Jew?

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