Being with his kids for the nighttime routine far outweighs Stephen Corby's love of fast cars (most days).
You can tell that someone really wants the truth out of you if they wait until your wife leaves the room before quizzing you.
My wife’s friend and her partner lowered their voices, glanced at each other conspiratorially and then asked a question they’d obviously long wanted to.
“We know you say you hate going away for work, but you don’t really, do you?” the woman asked, indicating with a nod of her head that surely the need to keep my partner sweet was the reason I kept up this lie.
“Because we’d love to get away from the kids now and then,” she hissed.
Perhaps it might be different if every trip was to New York. But the fact is I do miss my children, horribly, every time I go away, and pretty much the whole time we’re apart. Pretty much. Almost.
I can see, and concede, that what I sometimes get to do for work may appear fun from the outside (and not just the getting-away-from-the-kids part).
I regularly travel to far-flung parts of the world to drive flashy new cars — some of them Italian ones with famous names and big price tags — and for the most part my colleagues and I are well looked after, because the world’s automakers are not short of a quid.
But the fact is I turn down far more than I take, because I genuinely prefer hanging out with my children, hugging them, reading to them, being there for the bedtime routine, and somehow fitting in the necessary hours to write stuff for money in between.
Just recently I turned down a trip to drive the world’s (current) fastest car, a Lamborghini with a shouty name, in Portugal, because it would involve too many days away, and I’m seriously considering turning down a Rolls-Royce launch in the US because it clashes with school holidays.
Not every gig is fun, of course. I just returned from a week in Mongolia which seems to be a place where life is cheap. So much so that they let people drive both left and right-hand-drive cars on the same roads and, apparently, with no training or rules whatsoever. Scary is too polite a word.
We seriously thought we might die a couple of times in car accidents, and during what felt like a crash-landing of our charter plane, and while lost in the Gobi Desert with our water running out. Each time, all I could think about was getting home to the children.
But the worst part of the trip was coming home to have my daughter say: “I can’t remember, Daddy, were you here for my birthday?”
To which I assured her that, I was there, and would never miss a birthday.
This is because I have lockouts (birthdays, Easter, Father’s Day). And rules. And no-fly zones. While many of my colleagues (most have kids) take between 12 and 15 overseas work trips a year, which means more than 100 nights away, I don’t do more than six.
I also won’t go if the trip is longer than a week, because that’s all I can take without losing my mind and choking on parental guilt.
One of my best friends, who does a slightly-less cushy job, regularly travels, sometimes for three or four weeks at a time, and I don’t know how he does it. Sure, Skype has made it easier to stay in touch, but his kids just don’t get to see him as much as I’m sure they’d like to.
And yes, I recognise that for him, and a lot of people (those in the services or FIFO workers) it’s not a choice. What surprises me is that anyone who does have a choice doesn’t work hard to reduce the amount of time they’re absent.
Because surely, it can’t be good for your kids to have an absent dad.
The cost of travel (and work)
Dads seem to be getting the message. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, since the mid-1990s the number of fathers choosing to work from home has jumped from seven to 15 per cent, while those working part-time also went from one to five per cent.
Another study showed that the amount of time a father spends with his kids today is seven times higher than it was in the 1970s.
Clearly, we’d all like to spend more time, if only we had it. A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 54 per cent of fathers with children under the age of one felt they were not able to devote enough to time to their children.
The same report found 62 per cent thought that all dads should spend more time caring for their children.
But won’t ‘someone think of the children’?
Children do start to notice if dads aren’t around. A study by the Australian National University found that a third of Australian children feel like their dads work too much; ie: they’re not around enough. It also found that 56 per cent of Aussie dads missed out on family events because of work.
But you don’t need research to tell you that your kids are just happier when you’re around than when you’re not. And you certainly don’t need research to know that it’s the same the other way around, and we are much happier when we can spend time with our kids.
Seeing a young child reach out to try and touch your face on an iPad when you’re video calling from the other side of the world is a heartbreaking experience.
If you have to travel for work, and there’s nothing you can do to reduce it, I really feel for you. But if you have a choice, it really is worth thinking about who all that travel is benefiting. And at what cost.
READ MORE FROM STEPHEN CORBY:
- How young is too young to take up sport?
- Sex, stuffing up, and the six fears expecting dads battle
- Mind the age gap dad, you might fall in