The Career and Family Dichotomy: Part One
Listen to counsel…That you may be wise the rest of your days. (Proverbs 19:20)
My desk is stacked with trial exhibits and deposition transcripts when the phone rings. The caller identification reads HAINES, AMBER—my wife. Our youngest, Titus, has not been gaining weight for six months and even our pediatrician is desperate. I know why Amber is calling before I answer.
“They are admitting Titus to Arkansas Children’s Hospital,” she says.
“When?” I ask, hoping she would say later in the week.
“We need to leave in two hours.”
The timing could not be worse, and Amber knows it. I am scheduled to be in court the following morning for a small, one-day trial, and although a younger attorney is assisting me with the case, I am ultimately responsible for the matter. Amber senses my trepidation and says she can take Titus alone. I can meet them in Little Rock after the trial, she suggests—“do what you need to do.” Her voice cracks.
The options may seem simple—career or family—but I’ve known good men who have weighed their obligations differently.
I’ve known one who chose to walk through medical uncertainty with his wife, rather than explore a lucrative career move. He received no fanfare, little praise for the decision. Angels did not descend from clouds to canonize him. He was not deaconized or otherwise recognized in the church bulletin. Perhaps his wife squeezed his hand a bit tighter, but the workplace did not recognize his family commitment as a virtue. In fact, in a candid moment, his colleagues might have admitted that his family devotion was a weakness, an exploitable flaw.
I know another who chose work instead of sitting by his child’s hospital bedside. His coworkers praised his dedication and tenacity. But as his wife found herself stifled under the weight of something not meant to be borne alone, briars sprouted and reached into the tenderest spaces of their marriage, choking life from the covenant. Years later, he’d admit that the passing occupational obligations of work were illusory at best. He’d admit that his decision was the beginning of an unraveling. His marriage would never recover.
Perhaps these are stark juxtapositions, but they are the stories I carry. I consider them, pray for wisdom, pray for capacity to choose rightly.
I walk into my younger colleague’s office, ask him whether he is ready to earn his stripes. He agrees, and I hand him a stack of files, argument outlines, and the trial briefs. I tell him that I’ll be accessible by telephone if he needs me. He assures me that he has it covered, says he will call me when the results are in. I thank him, and leave the office.
I pull from the parking lot carrying the tension of the career and family dichotomy in my shoulders. I know it; I have traded something over which I have control for something over which I have none. I’m a sucker for my control illusions. Cashing those in is a fearful position.
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