It was my son’s 13th birthday yesterday. I’m not too worried though, he’s really been a teenager for years. The boys played hours of video games with a few hours of real life football thrown in. I played a little football (yes, I regret it). They played tackle, but with me on the scene we only played touch (at my request). It all started out very organized and pretty calm, then steadily disintegrated into the sort of chaos you might expect (garden hoses, water guns, etc.) because that’s what the boys wanted.
Last night I was thinking. I’ve never missed any of my son’s birthdays. But a lot of you can’t be there for the cake and ice cream days. You miss a lot of important ball games, proms, first dates and those awful first heartbreak days. So many times you can only be a voice on the phone.
Yet a lot of drivers raise happy, strong and loving families, as close as a family can get.
Being there is obviously something every driver would like to do. Some of you have earned seniority to the point where you can get back for most, but not all, of the big days. But there are so many drivers out there who spend 20 days out for one or two at home. And a lot of those days won’t fall where you want them. Some kids have a dad there all the time but don’t have a dad they can turn to and talk to and be close to. Yet there are drivers who aren’t home and their children can do just that. Building a close relationship isn’t the automatic result of being there. It’s the result of being a good dad, whether you are home or on I-20.
How does a dad build bonds to his children, become important in their life, become loved and relied on when he isn’t home but a few days for every few weeks and then he’s gone again?
There’s a saying I think about that comes from the Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, people we often call Eskimos. It starts out “Life is a journey,” a saying familiar to cultures all over the world, but then goes on “and how you journey is more important than where you journey.”
One interpretation of that might be that the sort of dad you are today and every day is more important than a dad who one day may be wealthy or a company CEO. A child knows whether to trust you, whether to believe you, whether to give you her heart. A child knows if he should take the chance to look forward to you coming home so much he risks the ache of disappointment, whether you are coming home from a day at the office or a run to the other coast. They don’t make the choice simply because you are there.
So how does an OTR driver do that? My guess is that the No. 1 answer is a single word: mom. She’s at home and she is your eyes and ears and she translates for you and positions you right where you need to be. Some days you’re the tough guy, some days you’re shedding a tear along with the little voice on the other end of the phone. I think maybe that a loving dad out there on the interstates knows how to build relationships. Sometimes being at home can overload a dad and he can’t see the forest for the trees.
With all that wheel time, a driver can take more time than a lot of dads do to listen to their children, running what they have been saying and doing through your head. You work at your family relationships, and sometimes at-home dads don’t work hard enough, misinterpreting their presence for closeness. I’m guessing that the kids come to understand that you miss them as much as they miss you. I would also guess that you value the time you have together so much that you make it count, packing hours with a closeness that seals the bonds.
And for all you moms out there behind the wheel, reaching for something you can dip in acid to write me a blistering letter: I’m guessing that in most cases you work harder at it and do it better than dad. That’s why mom is mom.