When I was a kid my dad was never around that much. We lived in the western suburbs in Sydney and dad worked at a security company in the city taking the long commute in and out every day.
He was a hard worker and was dedicated to his job. He came from a generation that took pride in its work and nothing less than your best effort was good enough for him.
He often worked six days a week and sometimes travelled for his job, too.
He was strict yet fair, but most of all he was absent. Early mornings and late nights at the office meant that for most of my childhood, I saw him for an hour a day if I was lucky.
Sometimes we’d pass each other in the kitchen in the morning or he’d poke his head in the bedroom at night to check me and my brothers were sleeping and a nod of acknowledgment was our interaction for the day.
My mother practically raised two brothers, Jack, Peter, and me – Robert – all on her own. I remember asking when dad was getting home and if he was going to spend time with us on the weekend.
By the time I was a teenager it felt like we’d missed the boat completely. I didn’t really feel like I knew my father and I was certain he didn’t know me at all.
I swore I’d never be like that with my own children and promised myself I would be the father I’d always craved as a kid.
I met my wife Mary when we were both 23. We married a year later and a year after that we had our first born, Daniel. Two years later Jane came along and 18 months later we welcomed Matthew.
With the kids so young and a mortgage to pay off, I threw myself into my work as an engineer. I worked for a private company, which meant long hours and some weekend work.
Work was my priority because not only did I enjoy my job, but I had three hungry little mouths to feed, a mortgage to pay and a wife to support.
I found myself putting in longer hours without even thinking about it, believing that I was doing the right thing because I was providing for my family.
I worked my way up the company and soon I was the regional manager. Next the state manager and finally when I was 45, I was given the job as Australasia team leader.
I had finally made it, I thought. My kids had nice things, they went to a good school, my wife was comfortable and we had the money to take an overseas trip once a year.
A few nights after my promotion we celebrated at home with a family dinner; me, Mary and the kids. We were talking about my job and how far I’d come over the years when I spread out my arms and joking said to the table, “One day kids, if you work hard enough, you’ll be able to have all this too”.
Daniel and Jane gave me a little laugh, but Matthew said something shook me to the core: “Nah, I’d rather spend time with my family than work my whole life away.”
It felt like a kick in the guts. I know people talk about ‘a-ha’ moments and this was mine. I was my father.
I had done every single thing he had done and I hadn’t thought twice about it. Everything I resented him for had been replicated in my life. How had I let this happen?
It’s been a few weeks and I can’t stop thinking about it. Later that night I couldn’t sleep because I was going over my children’s whole lives in my head. I missed school carnivals, Saturday morning sport, and more than a few birthdays.
Had I comforted them enough when they were sad? Had I played with them enough in the back yard? Had I even tried to help them with their homework and teach them how to change a tire, unblock a sink or tie a tie?
The more I think about it, the more I’m filled with regret. Why did I think my job was so important? Yes, I’m glad we managed to pay off our mortgage and give the kids a good education, but who’s to say that’s more valuable than a relationship with their parents.
My father passed away seven years ago, but I wish I could talk to him about this now. I wonder if he had the same feelings of regret that I do. Maybe he felt bad about not spending time with my brothers and I, but because I resented him so much I didn’t even give him a chance to apologise.
Now I’m facing the reality that my kids are grown and I’ve missed my chance to experience it with them.
If anyone else out there has experienced this or has any advice I’d love to hear it. Am I alone in this or do other people have the same regrets?