A man with time to be a father isn’t a great man of the world. In order for a dad to be amazing at home, he needs to be something no man wants to be, which is average at work.
In the spring of 2022, Tom Brady retired from the NFL to an avalanche of attention. The news was so big it leaked to the press before Brady could announce it. Within minutes, congratulations poured in from athletes over Twitter, accompanied by well-wishes from actors and media personalities. Everyone celebrated Tom’s record-breaking career. And yet, there was a human side to his retirement that touched people. Tom finally wanted to spend more time with his family. Wait a minute, you say. Isn’t Tom Brady playing this season?
You would be forgiven for missing Tom’s brief retirement. It lasted around 40 days. Brady is now chasing his 8th Super Bowl ring while playing in his 23rd NFL season. Brady’s reason for un-retiring was to complete unfinished business. And yet, many die-hard fans believe has nothing left to prove. Go home, they yell.
We do understand. Players usually retire when they have “nothing left in the tank.” Brady hardly felt this way. He was coming off of one of his best seasons as a quarterback. He was even voted the league’s best player by his NFL peers. By all accounts, Brady had a lot left.
While many believe Tom is back for a meaningless NFL season, his stubbornness is clearly a strength. When Brady could have easily endorsed Nike or Adidas, he created his own brand of sports apparel. He even has his own version of “Just Do It.” The Brady brand uses the phrase, “Greatness lasts forever.”
The slogan may not be all that true. For example, legendary athletes from the 1960s and 70s are routinely left off the current best-of lists. Modern players with thinner résumés take their places. It’s a case of “greatness lasts a generation.” Regardless, who doesn’t give Brady the use of the word greatness? Tom Brady is a great quarterback.
With a chance to continue his NFL career at age 45, Tom Brady took it. He has three children, ages 9 to 15. Spending more time with his family will have to wait.
Me, on the other hand? I’m with my kids, day in, day out. I don’t spend long hours at a practice facility. I’m not hopping on a team flight to Green Bay in December. I’m at home being a father. The NFL hasn’t called, and maybe that’s a good thing for my children.
Arguably, the best father is the one who spends a lot of time with his kids. Who has that much time to spend these days? We begin to see a man with the time on his hands to be a good father isn’t a great man of the world. He’s not a globetrotting Elon Musk (no knock on Elon, who is publicly pro-family). From my experience, in order for a father to be amazing at home, he needs to be something no man wants to be, which is average at work. He can’t be Tom Brady.
Let’s address the exceptions to this bold statement. Are there amazing fathers who need to work a lot? Of course, attentive fathers can get by in less time. Are there bad fathers who are around all the time? Certainly, some men are always home and yet avoid their kids. But if you take two equally-attentive fathers, who will be a better one in the long run: the father who is around more or the father who is around less?
It’s a tough subject because plenty of men have no choice but to work long hours. They want to spend more time with their children. And yet, if a man feels this way, you can imagine he makes up the time with his kids when he’s home. Time is elastic. A solid hour spent with your son or daughter can make up for an entire day that went missing.
For others, it’s a touchy subject. Some fathers don’t need to work long hours to keep the lights on. They’re drawn to it. These are the in-demand executives in dynamic industries. If we look at top-level positions in the Fortune 100, we’ll see fathers who are also corporate rock stars, mini Elon Musks. They’re in dream jobs. Also, they work around the clock.
You don’t have to be a C-level executive to fall into this category. In every company, there’s a talent pool that makes the company competitive. You can be a low six-figure employee who is the linchpin of his department. You may work as much as the president of the company. In certain industries, you can be expected to pull one hundred hour work-weeks.
Many workers are counting the cost. They use their skills to make money in lesser roles. They downgrade their careers or move out of a demanding industry. They begin to see time as a kind of wealth. They want to step out of the arena and be successful in life.
I know about this because I did it. I deserve no credit for being high-minded. I didn’t do it on purpose. I downgraded a career (advertising) in pursuit of another career (book publishing). Only, I would have to start over. I accepted the fact that I was climbing down the corporate ladder. I would work at a lower level than my ability and make less money. The time I saved was devoted to writing a book. Later, when I had a family, much of the free time I had created for myself was channeled into being a father.
I don’t believe fathers who work in glamorous careers should necessarily quit their jobs. All I know is I’ve been on both sides of the corporate divide. I’ve worked one-hundred-hour weeks. I’ve also watched my kids full-time. I’ve made good money at work. I’ve also made no money while struggling to become an author and a daytime dad at home.
Do I actually think I’m a better father than Tom Brady? By the circumstances, maybe. There’s an old adage in sports: the best ability is availability. It means a star athlete is worse than the last guy on the bench if he can’t play. The best player is the one who takes the field. I’m with my kids every day. I read to them, play games, make meals, help with homework, watch their favorite shows with them, and listen to their vocabularies grow.
And my kids? They’ll remember I was there. Who knows how it will change their lives?
Being a good father is great for our children, but it’s no license for an ego trip. It doesn’t automatically make me a better person. After all, what if I were given the green light to follow my dream? If I were in Tom Brady’s shoes, would I turn down the bright lights of pro football to help my son with his homework? My version of the NFL is the publishing industry. If The New Yorker magazine wanted to hire me as a staff writer, would I say no?
It’s a scenario I would wrestle over. I could hire childcare for my kids. Of course, I would try to find the most caring person to replace me. I would make sure the drop-off from a father at home to a babysitter was as small as possible. But I wouldn’t be there. Like Tom Brady, I would be out in the world pursuing my dream.
The New Yorker hasn’t asked. Is it because I’m unlucky? Or is it possible I’m simply average in my chosen goal? For starters, I didn’t attend an Ivy League school. I have a master’s degree in writing, but not from a prestigious program like the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. I’ve participated in the rarefied world of literature to a certain point. It shows I have an aptitude, if not a special talent.
It’s hard to admit to yourself that you’re no world-beater. From a young age, I’ve gravitated toward competitive careers and zero-sum games. I’ve put my all into being successful, possibly to the insane levels of Tom Brady. I worked for a solid decade on writing a novel, from nights and weekends, to vacations, to quitting my career. I did not see the success I was hoping for. There are many reasons, possibly. Not everyone can beat the world. There are a small number of NFL quarterbacks. There are only so many bestsellers.
Tom Brady won the success lottery. Because I didn’t, I don’t have the temptation to leave my post as a father.
In the end, perhaps being average in life is the secret to being better at fatherhood. The world will likely never sing my praises, but my kids do.
This post first appeared at I Can Count to Four.