Skip to content

How a dad stays connected while traveling

September 29, 2017

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, September 27, 2017

Our family enjoys being together. From family breakfasts and dinners, to weekend activities, to summer camping adventures where we play hard and then sleep soundly, nestled in our cozy family tent, we greatly value time together. And even during times of tension we don’t like being apart, for too long.

Predictably, as our children Zoe and Adam age, recently turning 11 and 8 respectively, life seems to be physically pulling us apart, more often. After-school and weekend activities for Zoe and Adam seem to increasingly collide with each other — and their parents’ work schedules. While maintaining her family and professional roles, Lori is now a part-time doctoral student, too, and I have accepted an additional professional role, which includes occasional travel of nearly a week at a time.

As we each adjust to this new — and evolving — normal, the thought of my first six-day work trip has been stretching the strong emotional bonds our family has forged in these early years, with Zoe and Adam offering loud and heartfelt disapproval.

And while during the days leading up to my travels I offered Zoe and Adam extra doses of hugs, kisses and consoling words, I was less secure on the inside. My over-active mind churned with sadness, regret and fear at the thought of their upset, the single-parenting challenges that awaited Lori, and the certain truth that tragedy happens daily in this world.

I reassured myself about the relative safety of air travel and reminded myself that in addition to being amazingly resourceful, Lori will be surrounded by a supportive circle of neighbors and family while I am away. I also thought about one of the core lessons of the training I would be leading in the days ahead, the importance of inner connection to others.

The social service and mental health professionals who will be attending this training are charged with the responsibility of caring for children and families who have experienced higher rates of adversity and psychological trauma than most. As a consequence of neglect and abuse, these survivors often struggle to feel connected to caring others, especially when those caring others are not physically present. As a result, facing routine daily challenges, a modestly scary situation or uncertainty can produce feelings of loneliness, fear and desperation.

I am grateful that Zoe and Adam have so far been spared exposure to extreme adversity and trauma, and that the strong emotional bonds we have forged as a family in the early years bolster their ability to bounce back from upsets. Still, I believe they — like all children — can grow and thrive when their capacity to feel an inner connection to physically absent caring others is nurtured. So, I followed the example of my boss who shared with me a ritual he used when his children were young and he traveled for work.

At a local craft store I bought a box of mini, brightly colored blank stationary cards. In advance of my trip I secretly wrote notes to both Zoe and Adam, one for each day I would be traveling. I sealed each envelop with a decorative sticker and wrote their name and corresponding day of the week on each of the envelopes, six notes for each of them. In the early morning quiet, I placed Adam’s and Zoe’s colorful notes on plates at their places around the kitchen table, one for Lori, too. On the table I also left a sticky note with the words to a song I learned in a yoga class many years ago, and which I frequently sing to Adam and Zoe at bedtime, especially when they — or we — are needing a little extra love.

Hours later, while on layover at an airport in the next time zone, I called Lori’s number. Hearing the familiar ring of FaceTime on the family iPad, Zoe answered and soon we were beaming big smiles at each other. “Thanks for my note, Daddy,” were the first words she spoke.

It appears that this new family ritual was well received, that it did what I had hoped: The notes and lyrics were tangible extensions of my presence, reminders that I am with them even when we are not together and that they are loved.

And for me, it feels good to remember that I can always find new and creative ways to be the father I aspire to be, even when work takes me away from home.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: