CHISWICK, WEST LONDON – I used to dread Friday afternoons. That’s when Kate would drop off the kids at my apartment for their scheduled weekend with Dad.
Once I had them, I’d watch the clock the whole weekend until I could get rid of them again on Monday morning. If I returned them to Kate without anyone getting hurt, I considered the weekend a success.
I’d give them each an iPad on Friday night. They’d have unlimited screen time in my apartment until Monday morning.
I’m not proud to say this, but I was a babysitter, not a father.
It wasn’t any different when Kate and I were married. I was so stressed about work, I was never mentally present. Even on the weekends, when I didn’t have work, I’d be in my own little world, either fiddling with my phone or watching television while Kate played with the kids.
“Having kids was supposed to be the greatest joy in life,” I thought. “So why does it feel like such a chore?”
I now realize I had no connection with my children. No wonder I felt like a babysitter…
Fast-forward three years. We get up together. We eat together. We brush our teeth together. We play together. We travel together. We sleep together. We’ve done tourist stuff together, and we’ve shared A LOT of cramped hotel rooms together. We spend ALL our time together.
Most importantly, on the road, there’s barely any work stress or other drama going on in the background. Just day after day of fun and adventure. “The Endless Vacation,” we call it.
Here we are in Egypt, with the Sphinx behind us…
Seeing the Great Sphinx of Giza
And here we are walking around Xi’an, China (we stayed in an old army barracks that’s over 1,000 years old)…
With Dusty, Miles, and Penny in Xi’an, China
How Fatherhood Should Be
At first, we found it exhausting to be in such close proximity. I wasn’t used to it. I don’t think any of us were. There was a brief adjustment period.
Then one day, I noticed we were laughing almost the whole time. We were playing together. We were telling jokes. And stories. The kids were making fun of Dad. We were playing card games. We were even having long conversations about economics!
I realized this was how fatherhood should be!
As the trip went on, I started to notice little things about the kids I’d never noticed before… and I started to see how different they were from each other.
I don’t think this would have been possible without living every day for an entire year in each other’s pockets.
The challenge of traveling around the world brought us together, too. We had to pull together… and look out for each other… and encourage each other… on the long journey through sometimes challenging places like India and Rwanda.
We were like a little wolf pack, or a pioneer family on the frontier 200 years ago… all for one and one for all.
I’ve never been on a successful football team or anything like that, but now I can imagine what the camaraderie feels like. Except I got to experience it with my own children.
Here we are in India…
On the roof of our Airbnb in Pushkar, India
I read a blog post titled “The Tail End” recently.
The writer looked at the total number of days he will get to spend in person with his parents over his lifetime, assuming he continues to see them about five times a year and both his parents survive into his sixties.
“It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time,” he says. “I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time.”
This insight made me sad.
First, I thought of my own parents. Even before the COVID-19 lockdowns, I’d see them less than five times a year. Usually about twice a year.
Then Mum passed away at Christmas, and my dad is getting older now. I’m probably into the last 2% of the total time I’ll get to spend with him.
Then, I thought of my kids. I may have only 10 more good years of them living under my roof, seeing them every day. After that, they’ll leave home, and I’ll probably see them a lot less.
As the blog writer points out above, I will have used up something like 90% of our time spent together by then.
The bottom line is, I have a lot less time to enjoy my kids than I realized. Can’t waste it anymore.
That’s the thing about our trip…
It’s been a great adventure. When we explore new places, the kids get a great education.
But the real magic is in how it has brought us all together and transformed the relationships we have with each other.
“We meet people everywhere we go,” I told someone when we were in China. “But for us, this trip was never about meeting other people. It was about meeting each other.”
And that’s why – no matter what happens next in life for us – I know I’ll never regret our decision to take a family sabbatical.
– Tom Dyson
Homeschooling is on one reader’s mind… and another reader praises the Postcards…
Reader comment: Always interesting to me how teaching your children at home makes many people very uncomfortable. They say, “Don’t do it too long,” or “Your children need to be around different kids to learn how to get along,”… and on and on. Forget it.
Just heard advice recently on schooling from a wise woman: “Time to get out of government-run schools. You can’t trust what they’re teaching the kids, and lately, they’re not teaching them much that will help them actually live in our society.”
I congratulate you on continuing to homeschool and combining it, as you are, with other tutors (trips to museums, etc.) That’s the real education.
Reader comment: I really enjoy reading your writings. Reading your travel stories for me is like reading about my perfect lifestyle that I have never had the conviction to make happen. So I live vicariously through you!
Tom’s note: As always, thanks for your kind messages! Please keep writing us at [email protected], and I’ll try to answer your questions in a future Friday mailbag edition.