Sunday, June 06, 2004

Career & Family...

Mark Roberts has an insightful post regarding George Tenet’s resignation, titled The Resignation of George Tenet as a Moral Mirror. Mark essentially ignores the cynical comments from pundits that explore the real reason that Tenet resigned and focuses, instead, upon the possibility that Tenet actually resigned for the reasons he himself gave. Consider this quote of Tenet from Mark’s site,
This is the most difficult decision I have ever had to make. And while Washington and the media will put many different faces on the decision—it was a personal decision—and had only one basis in fact—the well being of my wonderful family. Nothing more and nothing less.
Mark goes on to state,
Moreover, in all of my listening and reading, so far I’ve heard no one praise Tenet for deciding that being a good dad is his highest priority in life. So let me break ranks by saying that I deeply appreciate George Tenet’s stated reason for resigning. And as I read what he told his CIA colleagues about his son, I can fully empathize what he’s saying. He sounds to me like a man who realizes that his time with his son is running out, and that being a good dad matters more than anything else. Most politicians and pundits can’t relate to this because they put their careers first and their families second (or third, or fourth, or lower). These priorities are so deeply ingrained that they simply become a given. Thus when George Tenet claims to put fatherhood first, it’s as if he’s speaking Aramaic without subtitles. Most people just don’t get it.
This is a sad statement about our culture. How did our children lose their worth? How did they, despite the fact that we see parent’s doting over their children with annual birthday parties complete with rented bounce-houses, clowns, and face-painting; despite the fact that weeknights are many times filled with sports league practices and weekends filled with sports league tournaments; and despite the fact that they swim in a wealth of toys that you and I only dreamed of? In my opinion, the outward manifestation of the supposed attention that our culture lavishes on its children falls woefully short of its true potential. The reason for this is that, in our PDA-based culture, the activities we have scheduled for our children become simply that – another appointment to meet in our hectic, daily schedule. We head for soccer practice thinking that we’re showing our children how important they are when, in reality, we’re showing them that they are no more important than the 2:00 p.m. meeting at work we’ve got scheduled for the next day. Now I’m certainly aware that many children have a passion for, as an example, sports. I’m not advocating that we stop their participation in youth sports programs. What I am suggesting is much more subtle – that we, as parents, understand how best to impart upon our children their worth not only as human beings, but as our own flesh and blood. This cannot be achieved in an environment that puts their well being at or below a parent’s career. In our me-centered culture the message a career-oriented parent sends to his children is that his own individual goals are supreme over any other responsibilities he may have in his life. For some, that this thinking is ludicrous is obvious; for others, it takes time to understand. I recently rented the 20th anniversary edition of the movie Close Encounters (of the Third Kind). I had seen it when first released, back in the late 1970s, but I was interested in seeing additional interviews done with Steven Spielberg and various cast members. One thing that struck me when I first saw the movie was how, at the end, the main character, played by Richard Dreyfuss, leaves his wife and two kids behind in order to travel with the aliens that have made contact with Earth. Although I was still in college and not married, I found that to be an incredibly selfish act. Interestingly enough, Steven Spielberg commented that that particular scene in the movie now stands out as indicative of how young he was at the time. At the time he also did not have a family and so, by his reasoning, he didn’t understand how utterly self-centered such an act was. He said that now that he does have a family he would never consider having the main character just up and leave, as he had 20+ years earlier. Time, and a family, helped Spielberg to grow up. Yet I shouldn’t be too hard on him for I’ve noticed a change in attitude in my own perspective since my wife and I had kids. Prior to kids I had never really given much thought to the issue of whether my wife would still work after having children. I figured that since both spouses, in most other couples we knew, worked, then we would be no different. It wasn’t until our first child came that I saw the intense bond that was formed between her and my wife. Although this bond begins prior to childbirth, it seems to intensify between the ages of 1 and 3. For a mother to willingly relinquish the bond between her and her child during the child’s formative years is tantamount to abandonment. Now I’m not talking about those mothers who must work in order to help their husbands bring food to the table, and I’m certainly not talking about those single mothers forced into the workforce in order to survive. I’m talking about those mothers that have bought into the false notion that they can have a career and care for their children, without sacrificing one or the other. So now we come to the husband. Although he doesn’t develop a bond with the child in the same manner as the woman, his influence is felt nonetheless. George Tenet claims that his son was in the 2nd grade when he took office and now, nine years later, he would like to spend some time with him. Why does it have to come to that? Why does George Tenet have to resign in order to spend time with his now teenage son? Do you know what? No matter what George Tenet has in the bank, no matter what plans he now has for his son, there is no way he can recover those nine years of neglect (if, indeed, he considers them years of neglect). That time is lost. At what point in the workday is it time to go home to the family? Is it really worth staying late at work during the week and coming in on weekends if it means relegating your family to the level of an appointment in your day planner?

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